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Extreme Unction

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one of the sacraments (the 5th) of the Roman Church, administered to sick persons in extremis, by anointing them with oil when death appears near. It dates from the 11th century, though the Roman Church, of course, seeks to trace it back to the apostolic age.

I. Origin of the Practice. The Church of Rome appeals (see below) to Mark 6:13, and James 5:14-16, as Scripture authority for extreme unction. In Mark we are told that the apostles "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." Clearly there is no trace of the "sacrament" here. The Council of Trent, in Citing this passage, shrewdly says that it is "intimated" only in Mark, because, according to Rome, the apostles were not "priests" until the Last Supper. If, then, the passage in Mark teaches the institution of the sacrament, it would follow that others beside priests could administer it. Cardinal Cajetan, as cited by Catharinus, rejects this text as inapplicable to this sacrament; and Suarez (in part 3, disp. 39, § I, n. 5) says that "when the apostles are said to anoint the sick and heal them (Mark 6:13), this was not said in reference to the sacrament of unction, because their cures had not of themselves an immediate respect to the soul." As to the passage in James, it speaks of an anointing for "healing" by all the elders of the Church, who might or might not be laymen; it was "the prayer of faith that was to save the sick" (see, for a thorough discussion of this passage, Elliott, Delinzeation of Romanism, book 2, chapter 14).

II. The Ancient Greek Church. The ancient writers of the Greek Church use the passage of James only for exegetical, not for dogmatical purposes. Origen, in the second homily on Leviticus 4, quotes the words of James when he speaks of the different ways which are given to the Christian for the remission of their sins. As the seventh way he mentions severe penance, in which he finds a compliance with the words of James: "If any be sick, let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them lay their hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord," etc. The connection shows that Origen applies the words to mental and physical sickness, and the laying on of hands, which he adds to the apostolic words, points to a local use of anointment in Alexandria at the reconciliation of the lapsi. Chrysostom (On the Priesthood, 2:196) quotes the words of James only as an argument that the priests have the power of remitting sins. John of Damascus, in speaking of the mysteries of the church, treats only of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The first certain testimony for the use of the anointment of the sick in the Greek Church is given by a Western writer about 798, Theodulf of Orleans.

III. The Ancient Latin Church. In the Western Church, Irenaeus (1, 21, 5) states that the Gnostics, and in particular the Heracleonites, poured upon dying members a mixture of water and oil, amidst an invocation of prayer, in order that their souls might become invisible and inaccessible to the hostile powers of the spiritual world. It is uncritical in the highest degree for Roman Catholic writers to infer from the existence of a Gnostic rite the existence of a similar rite in the orthodox Church. Tertullian and Cyprian, to whom we are indebted for so full information of the ecclesiastical usages of the Western Church, know nothing of extreme unction as a sacrament. This silence can not be explained by a reference to the disciplina arcani, as the latter exclusively embraced baptism and the Lord's Supper, and as even these topics, notwithstanding the disciplina arcani, are frequently and fully discussed by the ecclesiastical writers. Many of the latter mention the frequent use of oil as a peculiar charisma for miraculous cures. Thus it is related by Tertullian that the pagan Severus, father of the emperor Antoninus, was cured by the Christian Proclus by means of anointment. This certainly can have no reference to a sacrament for the use of Christians. (Many other examples of this use of oil may be found in Chemnitz, and in Binterim, Denkwurdigkeiten, volume 6, part 3, page 289.) Superstition developed this usage; and it occurred, according to the testimony of Chrysostom, that the lamps burning in the churches were plundered for the purpose of using the oil as a preservative against possible, and, as a miraculous remedy, against actual diseases. It is easy to comprehend how this medicinal and miraculous anointment could become the basis and the origin of a sacrament (see on this point Marheineke, Symbolik, 1:3, page 258). The transition is visible in an epistle from the Roman bishop Innocent I to bishop Decentius, of Eugubium, written in 416. Innocent calls 'the anointment of the sick a "kind of sacrament" (genus sacramenti); and while he reserves to the bishops the right of preparing the sacred oil, he states that both priests and laymen may apply the oil (quod ab episcopo confectum non solum sacerdotibus sed omnibus uti Christianis licet in sua aut in suorum necessitate unguendum), which is entirely at variance with the present teaching of the Church of Rome, according to which the sacrament can be administered only by priests. From the beginning of the ninth century the anointment of the sick is frequently mentioned in the acts of the Councils. Theodulf of Orleans (798), and the first Council of Mentz (847), place it by the side of penance and the Eucharist, but preceding the two latter. The recovery of the sick is always regarded as the chief object. Its use appears to have been considered necessary only for sinners; for abbot Adelhard, of Corbie, was asked by the monks of the monastery whether he desired to be anointed with the sacred oil, as they were certain that he was free from sins. The conception of the anointment of the sick as an act of penance caused a discussion of the question whether it could be repeated. Ivo of Chartres, and Godfrey, abbot of Vendome (about 2100), denied that the rite could be administered more than once, comparing it with the public penance; and it was a popular belief that a person recovering from sickness after receiving the anointment must not touch the ground with bare feet, and abstain from marital intercourse and the eating of meat. It was in the course of the 12th century that the names sacramentum exeuntium and extrema unctio came first into use.

IV. Extreme Unction as a Sacrament in the Church of Rome. A full dogmatical treatment of the anointment of the sick, according to the teaching gradually developed in the Church, was first given by Hugo of St. Victor (De Sacram.fidei lib. 2, page 15). Peter Lombardus assigned to it, in the series of the seven sacraments which he is the first to mention, the fifth place (Sentent. lib. iv, dict. 23). The scholastics, and, in particular, Thomas Aquinas, completed the scientific development of this doctrine, and the shape given to it by Thomas received the sanction of the Councils of Florence and of Trent.

The canons of Trent on this subject are:

"Canon 1. If any shall say that extreme unction is not truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, and declared by the blessed apostle James, but only a rite received from the fathers, or a human invention, let him be accursed.

Song of Solomon 2. If any shall say that the holy anointing of the sick does not confer grace, nor remit sins, nor relieve the sick, but that it has ceased, as if it were formerly only the grace of healing, let him be accursed.

Song of Solomon 3. If any shall say that the rite and usage of extreme unction, which the holy Roman Church observes, is contrary to the sentence of the blessed apostle James, and therefore should be changed, and may be despised by Christians without sin, let him be accursed.

Song of Solomon 4. If any shall say that the presbyters of the Church, whom St. James directs to be called for the anointing of the sick, are not priests ordained by the bishops, but elders in age in any community, and that therefore the priest is not the only proper minister of extreme unction, let him be accursed" (Concil. Trident. sess. 14, c. 1 sq.). The authority for this sacrament is stated by the Council (same session, c. 1) as follows: "This sacred unction of the sick was instituted as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament by Christ Jesus our Lord, being first intimated by Mark (6:13), and afterwards recommended and published to the faithful by James the apostle, brother of our Lord. 'Is any man,' saith he, sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him' (James 5:14-15). In which words, as the Church has learned by apostolical tradition, handed down from age to age, he teaches the matter, form, proper minister, and effect of this salutary sacrament. For the Church understands the matter of the sacrament to be the oil, blessed by the bishop; the unction most fitly representing the grace of the Holy Spirit, wherewith the soul of the sick man is invisibly anointed. The form is contained in the words of administration."

The ceremony must be performed by a priest. The oil must be olive oil consecrated by a bishop. "No other sort of oil can be the matter of this sacrament; and this its matter is most significant of its efficacy. Oil is very efficacious in soothing bodily pain, and this sacrament soothes and alleviates the pain and anguish of the soul. Oil also contributes to restore health and spirits, serves to give light, and refreshes fatigue; and these effects correspond with and are expressive of those produced, through the divine power, on the sick by the administration of this sacrament" (Catechism of Trent, Baltimore, 8vo, page 206). The form of the ceremony is as follows: The priest, having dipped the thumb of his right hand in the holy oil, proceeds to mark the organs of the five senses of the patient with the sign of the cross; and after each, application he wipes the part with a ball of cotton, for which purpose he brings with him seven balls already prepared. The order observed is this: the right eye is first anointed, then the left eye, the ears, and after them the nostrils (not the tip of the nose) are attended to in the same order, then the lips; after which the palms of the hands and soles of the feet receive the touch of the consecrated unguent. Men are also anointed in the reins, but this is dispensed with in the case of women. At each application the priest says, "Per hanc sacram unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam indulgeat tibi Deus quicquid peccasti, per visum," or "auditum," "olfactum," "gustum," "et tactum," as the case may be "May God, by this holy anointing, and by his most pious mercy, pardon you the sins that you have committed by the eyes," "ears," "nose," "taste," and "touch." "The anointing being ended, the priest rubs those of his fingers which have touched the oil with small pieces of bread, and then washes his hands. The crumbs of bread and the water are next thrown into the fire; and the pieces of cotton employed in the ceremony are carried into thes church and burned, the ashes of which must be thrown into the sacrarium." As to the parsons to whom extreme unction is to be administered, the Catechism (1.c.) limits it "to those whose malady is such as to excite apprehensions of approaching dissolution. It is, however, a very grievous sin to defer the holy unction until, all hope of recovery now lost, life begins to ebb, and the sick person is fast verging into insensibility." ... "Extreme unction, then, can be administered only to the sick, and not to persons in health, although engaged in anything however dangerous, such as a perilous voyage, or the fatal dangers of battle. It cannot be administered even to persons condemned to death, and already ordered for execution. Its participation is also denied to insane persons, and to children incapable of committing sin, who, therefore, do not require to be purified from its stains, and also to those who labor under the amful visitation of madness, unless they give indications in their lucid intervals of a disposition to piety, and express a desire to be anointed. To persons insane from their birth this sacrament is not to be administered; but if a sick person, while in the possession of his faculties, expressed a wish to receive extreme unction, and afterwards becomes delirious, he is to be anointed." ... "The pastor will follow the uniform practice of the Catholic Church, and not administer extreme unction until the penitent has confessed and received the Eucharist."

The effect of extrenme unction is stated by the Council of Trent (sess. 14, chapter 2) as follows: "The power and effect of this sacrament are explained in the words and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. For this power is the grace of the Holy Spirit, whose unction cleanses away sins, if any remain to be expiated, even the last traces of sin and relieves and confirms the soul of the sick man, exciting in him strong confidence of the divine mercy; by which strengthened, he bears far better the inconveniences and pains of his disorder; resists more easily the temptations of the devil, who does, as it were, lie in wait at his heels; and sometimes obtains the restoration of his bodily health, if the same shall further the salvation of his soul."

V. The Greek Church. The Greek Church uses anointing with oil (See EUCHELAION) as one of its "mysteries," but does not limit it to cases of supposed mortal illness. She counts it as the seventh of the sacraments, and regards it as instituted by Christ (Mark 6:13), and introduced into practice by the Church (James 5:14). The oil may be consecrated by common priests, and is consecrated for every particular case. The anointment is generally performed by seven priests, but it may validly be performed by one. Those who are well enough go to church for the purpose of being anointed, after previously receiving absolution and the Eucharist. On the Thursday of the Passion Week in particular, many sufferers go to church for that purpose. The aim of the rite is to aid the recovery of the sick person, as is seen from the form of prayer used in applying the oil: "O holy Father, the physician of our souls and bodies, who didst send thy only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal all diseases, and to deliver us from death, heal this thy servant M. from the bodily infirmity under which he now labors, and raise him up by the grace of Christ" (Perceval, Roman Schism; King, Greek Church). In the Confession of Metrophanes Critopulos (ed. by Kimmel, Jena, 1850), page 152, it is farther stated that, as many bodily diseases depend on sin, it is proper (δῆλον ) that prayer should be offered at the same time for the remission of the sin for which the disease is a penalty. He adds that this Euchelaion is not extreme unction (οὐκ ἐσχάτη χρίσις ). It canm be administered whenever a person is ill, and hence to the same person many times. For a description of this ceremony as perfoamead in the Greek Church, see Schmidt, Darstellung dergriechisch-russischen Kirche (Mentz, 1826, page 220 sq.).

VI. Extreme Unction and Protestantism. As the ancient Waldenses recognized the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, there is no doubt that they also accepted extreme unction. Wycliffe doubted many points of the doctrine of the Church of Ronme concerning extreme unction, but was willing to regard it as a sacrament for the physical cure of the sick, provided the priests could obtain this effect by their prayer. Luther had no objection to the anointing of the sick if the priests prayed with them and exhorted them, but hue denied the anointment to be a sacrament. Like Luther, all the other Protestant Churches reject extreme unction altogether. The 25th article of the Church of England puts it among the five so-called sacraments of Rome which "are not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel." Bishop Forbes (who represents the Romanizing tendency in the Church of England) calls "the unction of the sick the lost pleiad of the Anglican firmament," and recommends its restoration (On 39 Articles, Art. 25 ad fin.). Among the High Church Lutherans there are also some who urge the introduction of the anointing of the sick. On the general subject, see, besides the authors already cited, Siegel, christl.-kirchl. Alterthumer, 4:119 sq.; Cramp, Text-book of Popery, chapter 9; Riddle, Christian Antiquities, book 7, chapter 2; Burnet, On 39 Articles (Art. 25); Herzog, Real-Encycl. 10:551; and the article (See SACRAMENTS).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Extreme Unction'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/e/extreme-unction.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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