GLEN COVE, NY — Next month will start the 50th
year since I became a soldier. Whether he serves for two years or 40,
whether he achieves high rank or not, whatever his branch of service
or military skill, the soldier learns something unique about reality
that stays with him well beyond 50 years. Often this enhanced appreciation
of reality leads to a strong faith in God.
It is said that there are no atheists in fox holes. The
first meaning of this is that those in immediate danger of death believe
in God. There is a more subtle meaning as well: those with a particularly
realistic understanding of authority and human relations are better
equipped to understand God’s power.
Consider the Centurion with the sick servant in Chapter
8 of Matthew. When Jesus offered to come cure him the Centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy
that thou shouldest enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my boy shall
be healed. For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers;
and I say to this one go, and he goeth; and to another, come, and he cometh;
and to my servant, do this, and he doeth it.” Jesus then said to his followers “Amen,
I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.”
A Centurion was something like a company commander, but
great faith was also present in those that served under them. In Matthew
27:54, it was not only the Centurion, but also his soldiers, who when
they saw the earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross, said, “Indeed this was the Son of God.” They
saw reality far better than the biblical scholars who most likely saw
the temple veil, after it was torn from top to bottom.
A third centurion, Saint Cornelius, was chosen by God to receive the miraculous
vision that would play a major role in settling the controversy about how to
receive Gentiles as Christians. (Acts, Chapter 10).
God is the “God of Armies,” He is referred to by that title about
100 times in the Old Testament. Christian liturgy, in the East and the West,
Catholic and Protestant, harkens back to Isaiah 6:3. In the Hebrew text this
is “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, YHVH Tsavaot” (Holy, Holy, Holy, God
of armies”). It is not read that way. Orally “Adonai”(Lord)
is substituted for “YHVH” to avoid taking the name of God
For the Greek-speaking Jewish contemporaries of Our Lord
it was “Hagios,
Hagios, Hagios, Kyrios Sabaoth” (“Holy. holy, holy. Lord of armies”).
The liturgical formulae in the Roman Rite, “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,
Domine Deus sabaoth” simply blends to two ancient texts. “Tsava” is
Hebrew for “Army” “Tsavaot” is its plural. “Sabaoth” is
the classical transliteration of “Tsavaot.” The Greek version
quoted above is regarded as inspired by God in many Eastern churches.
Going back at least to Saint Cornelius, there have been soldier saints. A prominent
one is Saint George, who died on April 23, 303. Another is Saint Ignatius Loyola,
who chose a military model for the Society of Jesus. Less obvious is the military
influence on his prayer life. He returned everything to God is his prayer. This
echoes the total obedience and total loyalty that military life sometimes requires.
Today we live in a society in which only a few young men experience any military
life at all. It is also a society of decreasing realism in popular thought, of
decreasing commitment even to vows, of decreasing self denial, and especially
of decreasing firm Faith. It used to be said that many young men grew up during
their two or three years in the Armed Forces. Today we have to wonder if they
grow up at all.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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