History and Theology of Chaplaincy

Chaplains FlagChaplaincy has a long history, possibly beginning with St Martin de Tours. It is known for pastoral service to special communities and institutions. Nomenclature and theology underlying chaplaincy services changes to serve the needs of the times.

History of Chaplaincy
St Martin de Tours
Chaplaincy is a word with a long Christian heritage, centred principally around both prison and military chaplaincy and chaplaincy to particular personages. In the 12th century apse in the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome, there is a tonsured man designated as ‘cappellano’, perhaps associated with the clerical functionary in charge of the shrine. But the word is derived from ‘cloak’ and goes back to Martin, later St Martin (316/336 – 397), the Bishop of Tours, who was a Roman soldier serving at Amiens in Gaul who gave his cloak to a beggar.

The historical roots of chaplaincy lie not only in pastoral service to special communities and institutions but to special personages such as reigning monarchs and bishops where the chaplain acted as confessor and spiritual director. Currently, there are 33 Honorary Chaplains to Queen Elizabeth II. Within the Royal Household for England (there is a similar but simpler arrangement for Scotland) is the Ecclesiastical Household within which there is the College of Chaplains founded in 1437 and headed by the Clerk of the Closet, presently an English Anglican bishop. Within the College is the Chapel Royal, the Royal Almonry Office, the various domestic chaplains and the armed services chaplains. The Chapel Royal is an ecclesiastical body of clergy, singers and vestry officers appointed to serve the spiritual needs of the reigning monarch. Rev. Canon Paul Wright is currently the domestic chaplain to the sovereign at Buckingham Palace. Up until its abrogation by the present incumbent, Philip Freier, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne had the services of a chaplain as a personal assistant.

Chaplaincy – Nomenclature and Theology

The Christian heritage of the notion of chaplaincy has generated a resistance to its usage in multicultural contexts. Replacement terms such as pastoral services, spiritual care, spiritual health and spiritual direction have been introduced. But such phrases have vaguer, less defined parameters with emphasis on the individual rather than an institutional focus. In the 1990s in the UK, the term ‘sector ministry’ was introduced but it is not referred to in Slater’s recent monograph and seems to have died a quick death (Slater 2015). It is noted that chaplaincy has generally been retained as the descriptive label in the UK and USA whereas Spiritual Health Victoria has since adopted its term to cover the area of specialist pastoral care and chaplaincy services in health care settings. It is likely that various phrases will be used to cover the various institutional settings.

Chaplaincy as a concept was introduced to distinguish it from pastoral care in parish or local community settings, and strongly retains the connotation that it is directed towards specialist institutions such as the navy, a prison or a hospice and/or it is targeted at particular populations such as youth, migrants, seafarers, prisoners or the aged. It also was associated with a trained religious functionary such as a priest or monk or imam. Morgan (2015), writing for the health care context, has described spiritual (or pastoral) care as that which “provides a supportive, compassionate presence for people at significant times of transition, illness, grief or loss. This care is most often delivered through attentive and reflective listening and seeks to identify the person’s spiritual resources, hopes and needs. Care is provided from a multi-faith and spiritual perspective offering support, comfort, spiritual counselling, and faith-based chaplaincy and religious services to patients and their families. Spiritual care is a collaborative and respectful partnership between the person and their health care provider and is an integral component of holistic care” (Spiritual Health Victoria 2015:2).


Specialist pastoral care takes many forms
Specialist pastoral care takes many forms



 1,949 total views,  1 views today