Extreme Unction by New Advent Encyclopdeia Part 1
A sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ to give spiritual aid and comfort and perfect spiritual health, including, if need be, the remission of sins, and also, conditionally, to restore bodily health, to Christians who are seriously ill; it consists essentially in the unction by a priest of the body of the sick person, accompanied by a suitable form of words. The several points embodied in this descriptive definition will be more fully explained in the following sections into which this article is divided: I. Actual Rite of Administration; II. Name; III. Sacramental Efficacy of the Rite; IV. Matter and Form; V. Minister; VI. Subject; VII. Effects; VIII. Necessity; IX. Repetition; X. Reviviscence of the Sacrament.
As administered in the Western Church today according to the rite of the Roman Ritual, the sacrament consists (apart from certain non-essential prayers) in the unction with oil, specially blessed by the bishop, of the organs of the five external senses (eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands), of the feet, and, for men (where the custom exists and the conditionof the patient permits of his being moved), of the loins or reins; and in the following form repeated at each unction with mention of the corresponding sense or faculty: "Through this holy unction and His own most tender mercy may the Lordpardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed [quidquid deliquisti] by sight [by hearing, smell, taste, touch, walking, carnal delectation]". The unction of the loins is generally, if not universally, omitted in English-speaking countries, and it is of course everywhere forbidden in case of women. To perform this rite fully takes an appreciabletime, but in cases of urgent necessity, when death is likely to occur before it can be completed, it is sufficient to employ a single unction (on the forehead, for instance) with the general form: "Through this holy unction may the Lordpardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed." By the decree of 25 April, 1906, the Holy Office has expressly approved of this form for cases of urgent necessity.
In the Eastern Orthodox (schismatical) Church this sacrament is normally administered by a number of priests (seven, five, three; but in case of necessity even one is enough); and it is the priests themselves who bless the oil on each occasion before use. The parts usually anointed are the forehead, chin, cheeks, hands, nostrils, and breast, and theform used is the following: "Holy Father, physician of souls and of bodies, Who didst send Thy Only-Begotten Son as the healer of every disease and our deliverer from death, heal also Thy servant N. from the bodily infirmity that holds him, and make him live through the grace of Christ, by the intercessions of [certain saints who are named], and of all thesaints." (Goar, Euchologion, p. 417.) Each of the priests who are present repeats the whole rite.
The name Extreme Unction did not become technical in the West till towards the end of the twelfth century, and has never become current in the East. Some theologians would explain its origin on the ground that this unction was regarded as the last in order of the sacramental or quasi-sacramental unctions, being preceded by those of baptism,confirmation, and Holy orders; but, having regard to the conditions prevailing at the time when the name was introduced (see below, VI), it is much more probable that it was intended originally to mean "the unction of those in extremis", i.e. of the dying, especially as the corresponding name, sacramentum exeuntium, came into common use during the same period.
In previous ages the sacrament was known by a variety of names, e.g., the holy oil, or unction, of the sick; the unction or blessing of consecrated oil; the unction of God; the office of the unction; etc. In the Eastern Church the later technical name is euchelaion (i.e. prayer-oil); but other names have been and still are in use, e.g. elaion hagion (holy), or hegismenon (consecrated), elaion, elaiou Chrisis, chrisma, etc.
The Council of
The teaching of the Council of Trent is directed chiefly against the Reformers of the sixteenth century. Luther denied the sacramentality of extreme unction and classed it among rites that are of human or ecclesiastical institution (De Captivit. Babylonicâ, cap. de extr. unct.). Calvin had nothing but contempt and ridicule for this sacrament, which he described as a piece of "histrionic hypocrisy" (Instit., IV, xix, 18). He did not deny that the Jacobean rite may have been a sacrament in the
Previous to the Reformation there appears to have been no definite heresy relating to this sacrament in particular. TheAlbigenses are said to have rejected it, the meaning probably being that its rejection, like that of other sacraments, was logically implied in their principles. The abuses connected with its administration which prevailed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and which tended to make it accessible only to the rich, gave the Waldenses a pretext for denouncing it as the ultima superbia (cf. Preger, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Waldenser im M.A., pp. 66 sqq.). That theWycliffites and Hussites were suspected of contemning extreme unction is clear from the interrogatory already referred to, but the present writer has failed to discover any evidence of its specific rejection by these heretics.
In this connection there are only two texts to be discussed--Mark 6:13, and James 5:14-15--and the first of these may be disposed of briefly. Some ancient writers (Victor of Antioch, Theophylactus, Euthymius, St. Bede, and others) and not a few Scholastics saw a reference to this sacrament in this text of St. Mark, and some of them took it to be a record of its institution by Christ or at least a proof of His promise or intention to institute it. Some post-Tridentinetheologians also (Maldonatus, de Sainte-Beuve, Berti, Mariana, and among recent writers, but in a modified form, Schell) have maintained that the unction here mentioned was sacramental. But the great majority of theologians andcommentators have denied the sacramentality of this unction on the grounds: (1) that there is mention only of bodily healing as its effect (cf. Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1-2); (2) that many of those anointed had probably not receivedChristian baptism; (3) that the Apostles had not yet been ordained priests; and (4) that penance, of which extreme unction is the complement, had not yet been instituted as a sacrament. Hence the guarded statement of the Council of Trent that extreme unction as a sacrament is merely "insinuated" in St. Mark, i.e. hinted at or prefigured in themiraculous unction which the Apostles employed, just as Christian baptism had been prefigured by the baptism of John.
The text of St. James reads: "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them prayover him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save [sosei] the sick man: and theLord shall raise him up [egerei]: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." It is not seriously disputed that there is question here of those who are physically ill, and of them alone; and that the sickness is supposed to be grave is conveyed by the word kamnonta and by the injunction to have the priests called in; presumably the sick person cannot go to them. That by "the priests of the church" are meant the hierarchical clergy, and not merely elders in the sense of those of mature age, is also abundantly clear. The expression tous presbyterous, even if used alone, would naturallyadmit no other meaning, in accordance with the usage of the Acts, Pastoral Epistles, and I Peter (v); but the addition of tes ekklesias excludes the possibility of doubt (cf. Acts 20:17). The priests are to pray over the sick man, anointinghim with oil. Here we have the physical elements necessary to constitute a sacrament in the strict sense: oil as remotematter, like water in baptism; the anointing as proximate matter, like immersion or infusion in baptism; and the accompanying prayer as form. This rite will therefore be a true sacrament if it has the sanction of Christ's authority, and is intended by its own operation to confer grace on the sick person, to work for his spiritual benefit. But the words "in the name of the Lord" here mean "by the power and authority of Christ", which is the same as to say that St. Jamesclearly implies the Divine institution of the rite he enjoins. To take these words as referring to a mere invocation ofChrist's name--which is the only alternative interpretation--would be to see in them a needless and confusing repetition of the injunction "let them pray over him". But is this rite recommended by St. James as an operative sign of grace? It may be admitted that the words "the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up", taken by themselves and apart from the context, might possibly be applied to mere bodily healing; but the words that follow, "and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him", speak expressly of a spiritual effect involving the bestowal of grace. This being so, and it being further assumed that the remission of sins is given by St. James as an effect of the prayer-unction, nothing is more reasonable than to hold that St. James is thinking of spiritual as well as of bodily effects when he speaks of the sick man being "saved" and "raised up".
It cannot be denied that in accordance with New Testament usage the words in question (especially the first) are capable of conveying this twofold meaning, and it is much more natural in the present context to suppose that they do convey it. A few verses further on the predominating spiritual and eschatological connotation of "saving" in St. James'smind emerges clearly in the expression, "shall save his soul from death" (v, 20), and without necessarily excluding a reference to deliverance from bodily death in verse 15, we are certainly justified in including in that verse a reference to the saving of the soul. Moreover, the Apostle could not, surely, have meant to teach or imply that every sick Christianwho was anointed would be cured of his sickness and saved from bodily death; yet the unction is clearly enjoined as a permanent institution in the Church for all the sick faithful, and the saving and raising up are represented absolutely as being the normal, if not infallible, effect of its use. We know from experience (and the same has been known and noted in the Church from the beginning) that restoration of bodily health does not as a matter of fact normally result from the unction, though it does result with sufficient frequency and without being counted miraculous to justify us in regarding it as one of the Divinely (but conditionally) intended effects of the rite. Are we to suppose, therefore, that St. Jamesthus solemnly recommends universal recourse to a rite which, after all, will be efficacious for the purpose intended only by way of a comparatively rare exception? Yet this is what would follow if it be held that there is reference exclusively to bodily healing in the clauses which speak of the sick man being saved and raised up, and if further it be denied that the remission of sins spoken of in the following clause, and which is undeniably a spiritual effect, is attributed to the unction by St. James. This is the position taken by Mr. Puller; but, apart from the arbitrary and violent breaking up of the Jacobean text which it postulates, such a view utterly fails to furnish an adequate rationale for the universal and permanent character or the Apostolic prescription. Mr. Puller vainly seeks an analogy (op. cit., pp. 289 sqq.) in theabsolute and universal expressions in which Christ assures us that our prayers will be heard. We admit that our rightly disposed prayers are always and infallibly efficacious for our ultimate spiritual good, but not by any means necessarily so for the specific temporal objects or even the proximate spiritual ends which we ourselves intend. Christ's promises regarding the efficacy of prayer are fully justified on this ground; but would they be justified if we were compelled to verify them by reference merely to the particular temporal boons we ask for? Yet this is how, on his own hypothesis, Mr. Puller is obliged to justify St. James assurance that the prayer-unction shall be efficacious. But in the Catholic view, which considers the temporal boon of bodily healing as being only a conditional and subordinate end of the unction, while its paramount spiritual purpose--to confer on the sick and dying graces which they specially need--may be, and is normally, obtained, not only is an adequate rationale of the Jacobean injunction provided, but a true instead of a falseanalogy with the efficacy of prayer is established.
But in defense of his thesis Mr. Puller is further obliged to maintain that all reference to the effects of the unction ceases with the words, "the Lord shall raise him up", and that in the clause immediately following, "and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him", St. James passes on to a totally different subject, namely, the Sacrament of Penance. But unless we agree to disregard the rules of grammar and the logical sequence of thought, it is impossible to allow this separation of the clauses and this sudden transition in the third clause to a new and altogether unexpected subject-matter. All three clauses are connected in the very same way with the unction, "and the prayer of faith. . .and theLord. . .and if he be in sins. . .", so that the remission of sins is just as clearly stated to be an effect of the unction as the saving and raising up. Had St. James meant to speak of the effect of priestly absolution in the third clause he could not have written in such a way as inevitably to mislead the reader into believing that he was still dealing with an effect of the priestly unction. In the nature of things there is no reason why unction as well as absolution by a priest might not be Divinely ordained for the sacramental remission of sin, and that it was so ordained is what every reader naturallyconcludes from St. James. Nor is there anything in the context to suggest a reference to the Sacrament of Penance in this third clause. The admonition in the following verse (16), "Confess, therefore, your sins one to another", may refer to a mere liturgical confession like that expressed in the "Confiteor"; but even if we take the reference to be tosacramental confession and admit the genuineness of the connecting "therefore" (its genuineness is not beyond doubt), there is no compelling reason for connecting this admonition closely with the clause which immediately precedes. The "therefore" may very well be taken as referring vaguely to the whole preceding Epistle and introducing a sort of epilogue.
Mr. Puller is the latest and most elaborate attempt to evade the plain meaning of the Jacobean text that we have met with; hence our reason for dealing with is so fully. It would be an endless task to notice the many other similarly arbitrary devices of interpretation to which Protestant theologians and commentators have recurred in attempting to justify their denial of the Tridentine teaching so clearly supported by St. James (see examples in Kern, "De Sacramento Extremæ Unctionis", Ratisbon, 1907, pp. 60 sq.). It is enough to remark that the number of mutually contradictory interpretations they have offered is a strong confirmation of the Catholic interpretation, which is indeed the only plain and natural one, but which they are bound to reject at the outset. In contrast with their disregard of St. James'sinjunction and their hopeless disagreement as to what the Apostle really meant, we have the practice of the wholeChristian world down to the time of the Reformation in maintaining the use of the Jacobean rite, and the agreement ofEast and West in holding this rite to be a sacrament in the strict sense, an agreement which became explicit and formal as soon as the definition of a sacrament in the strict sense was formulated, but which was already implicitly and informally contained in the common practice and belief of preceding ages. We proceed, therefore, to study the witnessof Tradition.
(1) State of the Argument
Owing to the comparative paucity of extant testimonies from the early centuries relating to this sacrament, Catholictheologians habitually recur to the general argument from prescription, which in this case may be stated briefly thus: The uninterrupted use of the Jacobean rite and its recognition as a sacrament in the Eastern and Western Churches, notwithstanding their separation since 869, proves that both must have been in possession of a common tradition on the subject prior to the schism. Further, the fact that the Nestorian and Monophysite bodies, who separated from theChurch in the fifth century, retained the use of the unction of the sick, carries back the undivided tradition to the beginning of that century, while no evidence from that or any earlier period can be adduced to weaken the legitimatepresumption that the tradition is Apostolic, having its origin in St. James's injunction. Both of these broad facts will be established by the evidence to be given below, while the presumption referred to will be confirmed by the witness of the first four centuries.
As to the actual paucity of early testimonies, various explanations have been offered. It is not sufficient to appeal withBinterim (Die Vorzüglichsten Denkwürdigkeiten der christkathol. Kirche, vol. VI, pt. III, p. 241) to the Discipline of the Secret, which, so far as it existed, applied equally to other sacraments, yet did not prevent frequent reference to them by writers and preachers of those ages. Nor is Launoi's contention (Opera, vol. I, pt. I, pp. 544 sq.) well founded, that recourse to this sacrament was much rarer in early ages than later. It is more to the point in the first place to recall the loss, except for a few fragments, of several early commentaries on St. James's Epistle (by Clement of Alexandria,Didymus, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and others) in which chiefly we should look for reference to the unction. The earliest accurately preserved commentary is that of St. Bede (d. 735), who, as we shall see, is a witness for thissacrament, as is also Victor of Antioch (fifth century), the earliest commentator on St. Mark. Second, it is clear, at the period when testimonies become abundant, that the unction was allied to penance as a supplementary sacrament, and as such was administered regularly before the Viaticum. We may presume that this order of administration had come down from remote antiquity, and this close connection with penance, about which, as privately administered to the sick, the Fathers rarely speak, helps to explain their silence on extreme unction. Third, it should be remembered that there was no systematic sacramental theology before the Scholastic period, and, in the absence of the interests of system, the interests of public instruction would call far less frequently for the treatment of this sacrament and of the other offices privately administered to the sick than would subjects of such practical public concern as the preparation of catechumens and the administration and reception of those sacraments which were solemnly conferred in the church. If these, and similar considerations which might be added, are duly weighed, it will be seen that the comparative fewness of early testimonies is not after all so strange. It should be observed, moreover, that charismatic and otherunctions of the sick, even with consecrated oil, distinct from the Jacobean unction, were practiced in the early ages, and that the vagueness of not a few testimonies which speak of the anointing of the sick makes it doubtful whether the reference is to the Apostolic rite or to some of these other usages.
It should finally be premised that in stating the argument from tradition a larger place must be allowed for the principle of development than theologians of the past were in the habit of allowing. Protestant controversialists were wont virtually to demand that the early centuries should speak in the language of Trent--even Mr. Puller is considerably under the influence of this standpoint--and Catholic theologians have been prone to accommodate their defense to the terms of their adversaries' demand. Hence they have undertaken in many cases to prove much more than they were strictly bound to prove, as for instance that extreme unction was clearly recognized as a sacrament in the strict sense long before the definition of a sacrament in this sense was drawn up. It is a perfectly valid defense of the Tridentinedoctrine on extreme unction to show that St. James permanently prescribed the rite of unction in terms that imply its strictly sacramental efficacy; that the Church for several centuries simply went on practicing the rite and believing in its efficacy as taught by the Apostle, without feeling the need of a more definitely formulated doctrine than is expressed in the text of his Epistle; and that finally, when this need had arisen, the Church, in the exercise of her infallible authority, did define for all time the true meaning and proper efficacy of the Jacobean prayer-unction. It is well to keep this principle in mind in discussing the witness of the early ages, though as a matter of fact the evidence, as will be seen,proves more than we are under any obligation to prove.
(2) The Evidence
(a) Ante-Nicene Period.--The earliest extant witness is Origen (d. 254), who, in enumerating the several ways of obtaining remission of sins, comes (seventhly) to "the hard and laborious" way of (public) penance, which involves theconfession of one's sins to the priest and the acceptance at his hands of "the salutary medicine". And having quoted the Psalmist in support of confession, Origen adds: "And in this [in quo] is fulfilled also what St. James the Apostle says: if any one is sick, let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them lay hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and if he be in sins they shall be remitted to him" (Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419). We might be content to quote this as a proof merely of the fact that the injunction of St. James was well known and observed in Origen's time, and that the rite itself was commonly spoken of atAlexandria as "a laying on of hands". But when it is urged that he here attributes the remission of sins of which theApostle, speaks not to the rite of unction but to the Sacrament of Penance, it is worth while inquiring into the reasons alleged for this interpretation of the passage. Some would have it that Origen is allegorizing, and that he takes the sickman in St. James to mean the spiritually sick or the sinner, thus changing the Apostolic injunction to the following: If anyone be in sins, let him call in the priest. . .and if he be in sins, they shall be remitted to him. But we cannot suppose the great Alexandrian capable of such illogicalness on his own account, or capable of attributing it to the Apostle. According to Mr. Puller (op. cit., pp. 42 sqq.), Origen, while quoting the whole text of St. James, means in reality to refer only to the fulfillment of the concluding words, "and if he be in sins", etc. But if that be so, why quote the preceding part at all, which, in Mr. Puller's, and ex hypothesi in Origen's, view, has nothing to do with the subject and can only lead to confusion; and why, above all, omit the words of St. James immediately following, "Confess your sinsone to another", which would have been very much to the point and could not have caused any confusion? The truth is that the relation of the Jacobean rite to penance is very obscurely stated by Origen; but, whatever may have been his views of that relation, he evidently means to speak of the whole rite, unction and all, and to assert that it is performed as a means of remitting sin for the sick. If it be held on the obscurity of the connection that he absolutely identifies theJacobean rite with penance, the only logical conclusion would be that he considered the unction to be a necessary part of penance for the sick. But it is much more reasonable and more in keeping with what we know of the penitentialdiscipline of the period--Christian sinners were admitted to canonical penance only once--to suppose that Origen looked upon the rite of unction as a supplement to penance, intended for the sick or dying who either had never undergonecanonical penance, or after penance might have contracted new sins, or who, owing to their "hard and laborious" course of satisfaction being cut short by sickness, might be considered to need just such a complement to absolution, this complement itself being independently efficacious to remit sins or complete their remission by removal of their effects. This would fairly account for the confused grouping together of both ways of remission in the text, and it is aCatholic interpretation in keeping with the conditions of that age and with later and clearer teaching. It is interesting to observe that John Cassian, writing nearly two centuries later, and probably with this very text of Origen before him, gives similar enumeration of means for obtaining remission of sins, and in this enumeration the Jacobean rite is given an independent place (Collat., XX, in P.L., XLIX, 1161).
Origen's contemporary, Tertullian, in upbraiding heretics for neglecting the distinction between clergy and laity and allowing even women "to teach, to dispute, to perform exorcisms, to undertake cures [curationes repromittere], perhaps even to baptize" (De Præscript., c. xli, in P.L., II, 262), probably refers in the italicized clause to the use of theJacobean rite; for he did not consider charismatic healing, even with oil, to be the proper or exclusive function of theclergy (see To Scapula 4). If this be so, Tertullian is a witness to the general use of the rite and to the belief that its administration was reserved to the priests.
St. Aphraates, "the Persian Sage", though he wrote (336-345) after Nicæa, may be counted as an Ante-Nicene witness, since he lived outside the limits of the empire and remained in ignorance of the Arian strife. Writing of the various uses of holy oil, this Father says that it contains the sign "of the sacrament of life by which Christians [baptism], priests [inordination], kings, and prophets are made perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents" (Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, "Patrol. Syriaca", vol. I, p. lv). It is hardly possible to question the allusion here to the Jacobean rite, which was therefore in regular use in the remote PersianChurch at the beginning of the fourth century. Its mention side by side with other unctions that are not sacramental in the strict sense is characteristic of the period, and merely shows that the strict definition of a sacrament has not been formulated. As being virtually Ante-Nicene we may give also the witness of the collection of liturgical prayers known as the "Sacramentary of Serapion". (Serapion was Bishop of Thmuis in the Nile Delta and the friend of St. Athanasius.) The seventeenth prayer is a lengthy form for consecrating the oil of the sick, in the course of which God is besought to bestow upon the oil a supernatural efficacy "for good grace and remission of sins, for a medicine of life and salvation, for health and soundness of soul, body, spirit, for perfect strengthening". Here we have not only the recognition in plain terms of spiritual effects from the unction but the special mention of grace and the remission of sins. Mr. Puller tries to explain away several of these expressions, but he has no refuge from the force of the words "for good grace and remission of sins" but to hold that they must be a later addition to the original text.
(b) The Great Patristic Age: Fourth to Seventh Century.-- References to extreme unction in this period are much more abundant and prove beyond doubt the universal use of the Jacobean unction in every part of the Church. Some testimonies, moreover, refer specifically to one or more of the several ends and effects of the sacrament, as the cure or alleviation of bodily sickness and the remission of sins, while some may be said to anticipate pretty clearly thedefinition of extreme unction as a sacrament in the strict sense. As illustrating the universal use of the Jacobeanunction, we may cite in the first place St. Ephraem Syrus (d. 373), who in his forty-sixth polemical sermon (Opera, Rome, 1740, vol. II, p. 541), addressing the sick person to whom the priests minister, says: "They pray over thee; one blows on thee; another seals thee." The "sealing" here undoubtedly means "anointing with the sign of the cross", and the reference to St. James is clear [see Bickell, Carmina Nisibena, Leipzig, 1866, pp. 223, 4, note, and the other passage (seventy-third carmen) there discussed]. Next we would call attention to the witness of an ancient Ordocompiled, it is believed, in Greek before the middle of the fourth century, but which is preserved only in a fragmentaryLatin version made before the end of the fifth century and recently discovered at Verona ("Didascaliæ Apostolorum" in "Fragmenta Veronensia", ed. Hauler, Leipzig, 1900), and in an Ethiopic version. This Ordo in both versions contains aform for consecrating the oil for the Jacobean rite, the Latin praying for "the strengthening and healing" of those who use it, and the Ethiopic for their "strengthening and sanctification". Mr. Puller, who gives and discusses both versions (op. cit., p. 104 sq.), is once more obliged to postulate a corruption of the Ethiopic version because of the reference to sanctification. But may not the "strengthening" spoken of as distinct from "healing" be spiritual rather than corporal? Likewise the "Testamentum Domini", compiled in Greek about the year 400 or earlier, and preserved in Syriac (published by Rahmani), and in Ethiopic and Arabic versions (still in manuscripts) contains a form for consecrating the oil of the sick, in which, besides bodily healing, the sanctifying power of the oil as applied to penitents is referred to (see "TheTestament of Our Lord", tr. Cooper and Maclean, 1902, pp. 77, 78). From these instances it appears that Serapion'sSacramentary was not without parallels during this period.
In St. Augustine's "Speculum de Scripturâ" (an. 427); in P.L., XXXIV, 887-1040), which is made up almost entirely ofScriptural texts, without comment by the compiler, and is intended as a handy manual of Christian piety, doctrinal and practical, the injunction of St. James regarding the prayer-unction of the sick is quoted. This shows that the rite was a commonplace in the Christian practice of that age; and we are told by Possidius, in his "Life of Augustine" (c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56), that the saint himself "followed the rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans andwidows in their tribulation (James 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay". We have seen Origen refer to the Jacobean rite as an "imposition of hands", and this title survived to a very late period in the Church of St. Ambrose, who was himself an ardent student of Origen and from whom St. Augustine very likely borrowed it (see Magistretti, "Manuale Ambrosianum ex Codice sæc. XI", etc., 1905, vol. I, p. 79 sq., 94 sq., 147 sq., where three different Ordines of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries have as title for the office of extreme unction, impositio manuum super infirmum). It is fair, then, to conclude from the biographer's statement that, when called upon to do so, St. Augustine himself used to administer the Jacobean unction to the sick. This would be exactly on the lines laid down by Augustine's contemporary, Pope Innocent I (see below). St. Ambrose himself, writing against the Novatians (De Poenit., VIII, in P.L., XVI, 477), asks: "Why therefore do you lay on hands and believe it to be an effect of the blessing [benedictionis opus] if any of the sick happen to recover?. . .Why do you baptize, if sins cannot be remitted by men?" The coupling of this laying-on of hands with baptism and the use of both as arguments in favor of penance, shows that there is question not of mere charismatic healing by a simpleblessing, but of a rite which, like baptism, was in regular use among the Novatians, and which can only have been the unction of St. James. St. Athanasius, in his encyclical letter of 341 (P.G., XXV, 234), complaining of the evils to religioncaused by the intrusion of the Arian Bishop Gregory, mentions among other abuses that many catechumens were left to die without baptism and that many sick and dying Christians had to choose the hard alternative of being deprived ofpriestly ministrations--"which they considered a more terrible calamity than the disease itself"--rather than allow "the hands of the Arians to be laid on their heads". Here again we are justified in seeing a reference to extreme unction as an ordinary Christian practice, and a proof of the value which the faithful attached to the rite. Cassiodorus (d. about 570) thus paraphrases the injunction of St. James (Complexiones in Epp. Apostolorum, in P.L., LXX, 1380): "a priest is to be called in, who by the prayer of faith [oratione fidei] and the unction of the holy oil which he imparts will save him who is afflicted [by a serious injury or by sickness]."
To these testimonies may be added many instances of the use of extreme unction recorded in the lives of the saints. See, e.g., the lives of St. Leobinus (d. about 550; Acta SS., 14 March, p. 348), St. Tresanus (ibid., 7 Feb., p. 55), St. Eugene (Eoghan), Bishop of Ardsrath (modern Ardstraw, in the Diocese of Derry; d. about 618; ibid., 23 Aug., p. 627). One instance from the life of an Eastern saint, Hypatius (d. about 446), is worthy of particular notice. While still a young monk and before his elevation to the priesthood, he was appointed infirmarian in his monastery (in Bithynia), and while occupying this office he showed a splendid example of charity in his care of the sick, whom he sought out and brought to the monastery. "But if the necessity arose", says his disciple and biographer, "of anointing the sick person, he reported to the abbot, who was a priest (en gar presbyteros), and had the unction with the blessed oil performed by him. And it often happened that in a few days, God co-operating with his efforts, he sent the man home restored to health" (Acta SS., 17 June, p. 251). It appears from this testimony that the Jacobean unction was administered only to those who were seriously ill, that only a priest could administer it, that consecrated oil was used, that it was distinct from charismatic unction (which the saint himself used to perform, while still a layman, using consecrated oil), and finally that bodily healing did not always follow and was not apparently expected to follow, and that when it did take place it was not regarded as miraculous. It is, therefore, implied that other effects besides bodily healing were believed to be produced by the Jacobean unction, and these must be understood to be spiritual.
As evidence of the use of the unction by the Nestorians we may refer to the nineteenth canon of the synod held atSeleucia in 554 under the presidency of the Patriarch Joseph, and which, speaking of those who have been addicted to various diabolical and superstitious practices, prescribes that any such person on being converted shall have applied to him, "as to one who is corporally sick, the oil of prayer blessed by the priests" (Chabot, Synodicon Orientale, 1902, p. 363). Here, besides the legitimate use of the Jacobean unction, we have an early instance of an abuse, which prevails in the modern Orthodox (schismatical) church, of permitting the euchelaion to be administered, on certain days of the year, to people who are in perfect health, as a complement of penance and a preparation for Holy Communion [seebelow VI, (3)]. That the Monophysites also retained the Jacobean unction after their separation from the CatholicChurch (451) is clear from the fact that their liturgies (Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic) contain the rite for blessing the oil. There is reason to suppose that this portion of their liturgies in its present form has been borrowed from, or modelled upon, the Byzantine rite of a later period (see Brightman in "Journal of Theological Studies", I, p. 261), but this borrowing supposes that they already possessed the unction itself. It has nowadays fallen into disuse among theNestorians and Armenians, though not among the Copts.
Many testimonies might be quoted in which the Jacobean unction is recommended specifically as a means of restoring bodily health, and the faithful are urged to receive it instead of recurring, as they were prone to do, to varioussuperstitious remedies. This is the burden of certain passages in Procopius of Gaza [c. 465-525; "In Levit.", xix, 31, in P.G., LXXXVII (1), 762 sq.], Isaac of Antioch (b. about 350; Opp., ed. Bickell, Pt. I, pp. 187 sq.), St. Cyril of Alexandria(De Adorat. in Spiritu et Veritate, VI, in P.G., LXVIII, 470 sq.), St. Cæsarius of Arles (Serm. cclxxix, 5, "Append ad serm. Augustini" in P.L., XXXIX, 2273), and John Mandakuni (Montagouni), Catholicos of the Armenians from 480 to 487 (Schmid, Reden des Joannes Mandakuni, pp. 222 sq.). This particular effect of the prayer-unction is the one specially emphasized in the form used to this day in the Orthodox Eastern Church (see above, I).
Mention of the remission of sins as an effect of the Jacobean rite is also fairly frequent. It is coupled with bodily healing by St. Cæsarius in the passage just referred to: the sick person will "receive both health of body and remission of sins, for the Holy Ghost has given this promise through James". We have mentioned the witness of John Cassian, and thewitness of his master, St. Chrysostom, may be given here. In his work "On the Priesthood" (III, vi, in P.G., XLVIII, 644)St. Chrysostom proves the dignity of the priesthood by showing, among other arguments, that the priests by theirspiritual ministry do more for us than our own parents can do. Whereas our parents only beget our bodies, which they cannot save from death and disease, the priests regenerate our souls in baptism and have power, moreover, to remit post-baptismal sins; a power which St. Chrysostom proves by quoting the text of St. James. This passage, like that ofOrigen discussed above, has given rise to no little controversy, and it is claimed by Mr. Puller (op. cit., pp. 45 sqq.) as aproof that St. Chrysostom, like Origen, understood St. James as he (Mr. Puller) does. But if this were so it would still betrue that only clinical penance is referred to, for it is only of the sick that St. James can be understood to speak; and the main point of Mr. Puller's argument, viz., that it is inconceivable that St. Chrysostom should pass over theSacrament of Penance in such a context, would have lost hardly any of its force. We know very little, except by way of inference and assumption, about the practice of clinical penance in that age; but we are well acquainted with canonicalpenance as administered to those in good health, and it is to this obviously we should expect the saint to refer, if he were bound to speak of that sacrament at all. Mr. Puller is probably aware how very difficult it would be to prove thatSt. Chrysostom anywhere in his voluminous writings teaches clearly and indisputably the necessity of confessing to apriest: in other words, that he recognizes the Sacrament of Penance as Mr. Puller recognizes it; and in view of this general obscurity on a point of fundamental importance it is not at all so strange that penance should be passed over here. We do not pretend to be able to enter into St. Chrysostom's mind, but assuming that he recognized both penanceand unction to be efficacious for the remission of post-baptismal sins--and the text before us plainly states this in regard to the unction--we may perhaps find in the greater affinity of unction with baptism, and in the particular points of contrast he is developing, a reason why unction rather than penance is appealed to. Regeneration by water inbaptism is opposed to parental generation, and saving by oil from spiritual disease and eternal death to the inability ofparents to save their children from bodily disease and death. St. Chrysostom might have added several other points of contrast, but he confines himself in this context to these two; and supposing, as one ought in all candor to suppose, that he understood the text of St. James as we do, in its obvious and natural sense, it is evident that the prayer-unction, so much more akin to baptism in the simplicity of its ritual character and so naturally suggested by the mention of sickness and death, supplied a much apter illustration of the priestly power of remitting post-baptismal sins than the judicial process of penance. And a single illustrative example was all that the context required.
Victor of Antioch (fifth century) is one of the ancient witnesses who, in the general terms they employ in speaking of the Jacobean unction, anticipate more or less clearly the definition of a sacrament in the strict sense. Commenting onSt. Mark, vi, 13, Victor quotes the text of St. James and adds: "Oil both cures pains and is a source of light and refreshment. The oil, then, used in anointing signifies both the mercy of God, and the cure of the disease, and the enlightening of the heart. For it is manifest to all that the prayer effected all this; but the oil, as I think, was thesymbol of these things" (Cramer, Caten. Græc. Patrum, I, p. 324). Here we have the distinction, so well known in latertheology, between the signification and causality of a sacrament; only Victor attributes the signification entirely to thematter and the causality to the form (the prayer). This was to be corrected in the fully developed sacramental theory of later times, but the attribution of sacramental effects to the form (the prayer, the word, etc.) is characteristic ofpatristic suggestions of a theory. Victor clearly attributes both spiritual and corporal effects to the prayer-unction; nor can the fact that he uses the imperfect tense (energei, "effected"; hyperche, "was") be taken to imply that the use of the unction had ceased at Antioch in his day. The use of the present tense in describing the signification of the riteimplies the contrary, and independent evidence is clearly against the supposition. In the passage from John Mandakuni, referred to above, the prayer-unction is repeatedly described as "the gift of grace", "the grace of God", Divinely instituted and prescribed, and which cannot be neglected and despised without incurring "the curse of the Apostles"; language which it is difficult to understand unless we suppose the Armenian patriarch to have reckoned the unction among the most sacred of Christian rites, or, in other words, regarded it as being what we describe as a sacrament in the strict sense (cf. Kern, op. cit., pp. 46, 47).
There remains to be noticed under this head the most celebrated of all patristic testimonies on extreme unction, the well-known passage in the Letter of Pope Innocent I (402-417), written in 416, to Decentius, Bishop of Eugubium, in reply to certain questions submitted by the latter for solution. In answer to the question as to who were entitle to the unction, the pope, having quoted the text of St. James, says: "There is no doubt that this text must be received or understood of the sick faithful, who may be [lawfully] anointed with the holy oil of chrism; which, having been blessedby the bishop, it is permitted not only to priests but to all Christians to use for anointing in their own need or that of their families." Then he diverges to point out the superfluous character of a further doubt expressed by Decentius: "We notice the superfluous addition of a doubt whether a bishop may do what is undoubtedly permitted to priests. Forpriests are expressly mentioned [by St. James] for the reason that bishops, hindered by other occupations, cannot go to all the sick. But if the bishop is able to do so or thinks anyone specially worthy of being visited, he, whose office it is to consecrate the chrism, need not hesitate to bless and anoint the sick person." Then, reverting to the original question, he explains the qualification he had added in speaking of "the sick faithful": "For this unction may not be given to penitents [i.e. to those undergoing canonical penance], seeing that it is a sacrament (quia genus sacramenti est]. For how is it imagined that one sacrament [unum genus] may be given to those to whom the other sacraments are denied?" The pope adds that he has answered all his correspondent's questions in order that the latter's Church may be in a position to follow "the Roman custom" (P.L., XX, 559 sq., Denzinger, no. 99--old no. 61). We do not, of course, suggest that Pope Innocent had before his mind the definition of a sacrament in the strict sense when he calls theJacobean unction a sacrament, but since "the other sacraments" from which penitents were excluded were the Holy Eucharist and certain sacred offices, we are justified in maintaining that this association of the unction with theEucharist most naturally suggests an implicit faith on the part of Pope Innocent in what has been explicitly taught byScholastic theologians and defined by the Council of Trent. It is interesting to observe that Mr. Puller, in discussing this text (op. cit., pp 53 sqq.), omits all reference to the Holy Eucharist, though it is by far the most obvious and important of "the other sacraments" of which Innocent is speaking, and diverts his reader's attention to the eulogia, or blessedbread (pain bénit), a sacramental which was in use in many churches at that time and in later ages, but to which there is not the least reason for believing that the pope meant specially to refer. In any case the reference is certainly not exclusive, as Mr. Puller leaves his reader to infer. What Pope Innocent, following the "Roman custom", explicitly teaches is that the "sacrament" enjoined by St. James was to be administered to the sick faithful who were not doing canonicalpenance; that priests, and a fortiori bishops, can administer it; but that the oil must be blessed by the bishop. The exclusion of sick penitents from this "sacrament" must be understood, of course, as being subject to the same exception as their exclusion from "the other sacraments", and the latter are directed to be given before the annualEaster reconciliation when danger of death is imminent: "Quando usque ad desperandum venerit, ante tempus paschæ relaxandum [est] ne de sæculo [ægrotus] absque communione discedat." If the words of Innocent--and the same observation applies to other ancient testimonies, e.g. to that of Cæsarius of Arles referred to above--seem to imply that the laity were permitted to anoint themselves or members of their household with the oil consecrated by the bishop, yet it is clear enough from the text of St. James and from the way in which Pope Innocent explains the mention of priests in the text, that this could not have been considered by him to be identical with the Jacobean rite, but to be at most apious use of the oil allowable for devotional, and possibly for charismatic, purposes. But it would not be impossible nor altogether unreasonable to understand the language used by Innocent and others in a causative sense, i.e. as meaning not that the laity were permitted to anoint themselves, but that they were to have the blessed oil at hand to secure their being anointed by the priests according to the prescription of St. James. We believe, however, that this is a forced and unnatural way of understanding such testimonies, all the more so as there is demonstrative evidence of thedevotional and charismatic use of sacred oil by the laity during the early centuries.
It is worth adding, as a conclusion to our survey of this period, that Innocent's reply to Decentius was incorporated in various early collections of canon law, some of which, as for instance that of Dionysius Exiguus (P.L., LXVII, 240), were made towards the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century. In this way Innocent's teaching became knownand was received as law in most parts of the Western Church.
(c) The Seventh Century and Later.--One of the most important witnesses for this period is St. Bede (d. 735), who, in his commentary on the Epistle of St. James, tells us (P.L., XCIII, 39) that, as in Apostolic times, so "now the custom of the Church is that the sick should be anointed by the priests with consecrated oil and through the accompanying prayerrestored to health". He adds that, according to Pope Innocent, even the laity may use the oil provided it has beenconsecrated by the bishop; and commenting on the clause, "if he be in sins they shall be remitted to him", after quoting1 Corinthians 11:30, to prove that "many because of sins committed in the soul are stricken with bodily sickness or death", he goes on to speak of the necessity of confession: "If, therefore, the sick be in sins and shall have confessedthese to the priests of the Church and shall have sincerely undertaken to relinquish and amend them, they shall be remitted to them. For sins cannot be remitted without the confession of amendment. Hence the injunction is rightly added [by James], 'Confess, therefore, your sins one to another.'" St. Bede thus appears to connect the remission ofsins in St. James's text with penance rather than the unction, and is therefore claimed by Mr. Puller as supporting his own interpretation of the text. But it should be observed that in asserting the necessity of confessing post-baptismalsins, a necessity recognized in Catholic teaching, Bede does not deny that the unction also may be efficacious in remitting them, or at least in completing their remission, or in remitting the lighter daily sins which need not beconfessed. The bodily sickness which the unction is intended to heal is regarded by St. Bede as being, often at any rate, the effect of sin; and it is interesting to notice that Amalarius of Metz, writing a century later (De Eccles. Offic., I, xii, in P.L., CV, 1011 sq.), with this passage of Bede before him, expressly attributes to the unction not only the healing of sickness due to the unworthy reception of the Eucharist, but the remission of daily sins: "What saves the sick is manifestly the prayer of faith, of which the sign is the unction of oil. If those whom the unction of oil, i.e. the grace of God through the prayer of the priest, assists are sick for the reason that they eat the Body of the Lord unworthily, it is right that the consecration [of the oil] of which there is question should be associated with the consecration of the Body and Blood of the Lord, which takes place in commemoration of the Passion of Christ, by Whom the author of sinhas been eternally vanquished. The Passion of Christ destroyed the author of death; His grace, which is signified by the unction of oil, has destroyed his arms, which are daily sins."
The confusing way in which St. Bede introduces penance in connection with the text of St. James is intelligible enough when we remember that the unction was regarded and administered as a complement of the Sacrament of Penance, and that no formal question had yet been raised about their respective independent effects. In the circumstances of the age it was more important to insist on the necessity of confession than to discuss with critical minuteness the effects of the unction, and one had to be careful not to allow the text of St. James to be misunderstood as if itdispensed with this necessity for the sick sinner. The passage in St. Bede merely proves that he was preoccupied with some such idea in approaching the text of St. James. Paschasius Radbertus (writing about 831) says from the same standpoint that "according to the Apostle when anyone is sick, recourse is to be had in the first place to confession ofsins, then to the prayer of many, then to the sanctification of the unction [or, the unction of sanctification]" (De Corp. et Sang. Domini, c. viii, in P.L., CXX, 1292); and the same writer, in what he tells us of the death of his abbot, St. Adelhard of Corbie, testifies to the prevalence of an opinion that it was only those in sins who had need of the unction. The assembled monks, who regarded the holy abbot as "free from the burdens of sins", doubted whether they should procure the Apostolic unction for him. But the saint, overhearing the debate, demanded that it should be given at once, and with his dying breath exclaimed: "Now dismiss thy servant in peace, because I have received all the sacraments of Thy mystery" (P.L., CXX, 1547).
As proving the uninterrupted universality during this period of the practice of the Jacobean rite, with a clear indication in some instances of its strictly sacramental efficacy, we shall add some further testimonies from writers, synods, and the precepts of particular bishops. As doubts may be raised regarding the age of any particular expression in the earlymedieval liturgies, we shall omit all reference to them. There is all the less need to be exhaustive as the adversaries ofCatholic teaching are compelled to admit that from the eighth century onwards the strictly sacramental conception of the Jacobean rite emerges clearly in the writings and legislation of both the Eastern and the Western Churches. Haymo,Bishop of Halberstadt (841-853), in his Homily on Luke, ix, 6 (P.L., CXVIII, 573), and Amulo. Bishop of Lyons (about 841), in his letter Theobald (P.L., CXVI, 82), speak of the unction of the sick as an Apostolic practice. Prudentius,Bishop of Treves (about 843- 861), tells how the holy virgin Maura asked to receive from his own hands "theSacraments of the Eucharist and of Extreme Unction" (P.L., CXV, 1374; cf. Acta SS., 21 Sept., p. 272); and Jonas,Bishop of Orléans, in his "Institutio Laicalis" (about 829), after reprobating the popular practice of recurring in sickness to magical remedies, says: "It is obligatory on anyone who is sick to demand, not from wizards and witches, but from the Church and her priests, the unction of sanctified oil, a remedy which [as coming] from Our Lord Jesus Christ willbenefit him not only in body but in soul" (III, xiv, in P.L., CVI, 122 sq.). Already the Second Council of Châlon-sur-Saône(813), in its forty-eighth canon, had prescribed as obligatory the unction enjoined by St. James, "since a medicine of this kind which heals the sicknesses of soul and of body is not to be lightly esteemed" (Hardouin IV, 1040). The Councilof Aachen in 836 warns the priest not to neglect giving penance and unction to the sick person (once his illness becomes serious), and when the end is seen to be imminent the soul is to be commended to God "more sacerdotali cum acceptione sacræ communionis" (cap. ii, can. v, ibid., 1397). The First Council of Mainz (847), held under the presidency of Rhabanus Maurus (cap. xxvi), prescribed in the same order the administration of penance, unction, and the Viaticum(Hardouin V, 13); while the Council of Pavia (850), legislating, as seems clear from the wording of the capitulary (viii), according to the traditional interpretation of Pope Innocent's letter to Decentius (see above), directs preachers to be sedulous in instructing the faithful regarding "that salutary sacrament which James the Apostle commends. . .a truly great and very much to be desired mystery, by which, if asked for with faith, both sins are remitted and as a consequence corporal health restored" (ibid., III, 27; Denzinger, Freiburg, 1908, no. 315).
The statutes attributed to St. Sonnatius, Archbishop of Reims (about 600-631), and which are certainly anterior to the ninth century, direct (no. 15) that "extreme unction is to be brought to the sick person who asks for it", and "that thepastor himself is to visit him often, animating and duly preparing him for future glory" (P.L., LXXX, 445; cf. Hefele,Conciliengesch., III, 77). The fourth of the canons promulgated (about 745) by St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany(see Hefele, III, 580 sq.), forbids priests to go on a journey "without the chrism, and the blessed oil, and the Eucharist", so that in any emergency they may be ready to offer their ministrations; and the twenty-ninth orders all priests to have the oil of the sick always with them and to warn the sick faithful to apply for the unction (P.L., LXXXIX, 821 sq.). In the "Excerptiones" of Egbert, Archbishop of