Soldiers go to heaven

Can a soldier go to heaven? Yes!

The message of the New Testament is not struggle and war, but peace and reconciliation. But that has not prevented the Christian peoples of Europe for almost two millennia from smashing each other's skulls - mostly with the blessing of the Church. Clergymen accompanied many armies on their campaigns, blessed weapons and at least buried the corpses of the victors who had fallen in Christianity.

When followers of different Christian denominations competed against each other, the battles could take on the character of religious wars. But even when Catholic troops of the Habsburg Monarchy fought against Catholic French, both sides did so in God's name.

Martin Luther provided criteria for military chaplaincy in his book "Whether people of war can also be in a blissful position" in 1526. The mercenary leader Asche von Cramm had asked him if a soldier could go to heaven. The reformer replied that it could very well be, namely if the individual soldier heeded the rules of just war and martial law. The prerequisite, however, is that the use of weapons only serves to defend the weak. After all, the struggle must actually create peace. This opened up a dilemma for Luther, as the individual soldier was at odds about having to check the legality of orders.

With the rise of standing armies in the 18th century, an official, professional military chaplain came into being; Until then, temporarily delegated pastors or locally active clergy had taken care of the religious support of the troops. The independent "military church" of the Prussian army, which arose in the time of Frederick the Great, remained an episode, however.

From then on, looking after the soldiers was one of the main tasks of the respective Protestant regional churches that were subordinate to the princes or kings. In Catholic areas there were formally no regional churches, but in fact the bishops were almost always part of the hierarchy; in practice there were hardly any differences. A Jewish military chaplaincy with field rabbis was first introduced in Austria-Hungary in 1875, in Germany at the beginning of the First World War.

In France, laicism led to the separation of church and state through a law in 1905; most of the young French who defended their homeland from 1914 were no longer believers. Nevertheless, the field fairs were perfectly understandable in view of the horror of the trench warfare. “Heavy fighting near Verdun. Two masses, half past six and eleven. The church is full. At the end of the mass I hear confession ", noted the volunteer field priest Jean-Emile Anizan in 1916:" An officer asks me to come to his position. His soldiers feel the need to speak to me. "

On the other side of the front in northeast France and Belgium, the mostly Catholic soldiers of the German 6th Army poured into crowded masses at the same time - the rite was even celebrated in the same language: Latin. The Protestant German soldiers had this problem just as little as the mostly Anglican British troops: their national churches were clearly subordinate to the respective secular power.

In 1933, the Hitler government concluded a concordat with the Vatican, which also regulated the issue of Catholic military chaplaincy. The dual subordination of field priests to military superiors and bishops was clarified. Protestant clergymen also served partly as permanent military chaplains, partly also as drafted war priests. They were stuck in an additional dilemma, often witnessing a war of conquest and extermination - that is, to act directly against the instructions of Martin Luther.

In order to guarantee pastoral care for the soldiers of the newly established Bundeswehr, the Federal Government and the Evangelical Church then signed the military chaplaincy contract on February 22, 1957. The Reich Concordat continued to apply to the Catholic Church.