THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.




HOME | contents | Unction of the sick: scriptural authority | outward sign | inward grace | purpose | not faith-healing or psychological treatment

I. Scriptural Authority for Unction of the Sick

The Unction or Anointing of the Sick is founded on the authority of James 5.14-16 supported by Mark 6.13
Its purpose is the restoration of the sick to health of body, mind, and spirit.

II. The Outward Sign

The subject of this sacrament is a baptized person who is seriously ill. 
It does not convey CHARACTER or permanent status,
and there is no reason why it should not be bestowed more than once even in the same illness;
but it should not be repeated unless a fresh crisis occurs for it has not the nature of food but of medicine.

The MATTER is pure olive oil,
which is placed on the sick person's forehead by means of cotton wool. 
The bishop of the diocese, or his suffragan, should bless the oil
(not any bishop, but only one who has jurisdiction). 
Besides ecclesiastical propriety,
the blessing by the bishop gives a certain prestige to the anointing
and helps the recovery of the sick person. 
But if for any reason the bishop cannot bless it, a priest may bless it.
In the Orthodox Communion seven priests bless the oil.

The FORM is a prayer for recovery. 
The 1549 Prayer Book included a form for unction of the sick,
but it was dropped in 1552 under the influence of Bucer. 
Since that time there has been no form for unction in the Prayer Book. 
It was not restored in the 1928 revision, because the subject was still under consideration by the Lambeth Conference. 
But the Lambeth Conference of 1930 gave its sanction to a form for unction previously issued by the Convocations,
which is now the proper service to be used in the Anglican Communion.

The MINISTER of unction is a bishop or priest. 
St. James speaks of the πρεσβύτεροι - presbyteroi,
the priests, as the ministers of unction.

III. The Inward Grace

The INWARD GRACE of unction is
the strengthening of the spirit that has been weakened by the sickness of the body. 
The body and spirit are so closely connected
that whatever affects one affects the other. 
Thus the weakness of the body weakens the spirit,
and the strengthening of the spirit helps the body to recover. 
Another effect of unction is the forgiveness of sins,
but it should ordinarily be preceded by confession and absolution.

Some theologians have maintained that unction is not properly a sacrament because its effect is only on the body. 
The answer to this is that we cannot draw so sharp a distinction between effects on the body and effects on the spirit;
and that even when the sick person does not recover,
the spiritual effect of unction is valuable, as is shown by experience.

IV. Unction is for the Healing of the Sick,
rather than Preparation for Death

The tradition in Latin Christendom that the purpose of unction is to prepare us for death is not supported by Scripture or by the ancient rites. 
It is a medieval abuse and is declared in Article 25

to have grown of the corrupt following of the Apostles. 

Nevertheless, though the chief purpose of unction is restoration to health
(spiritual and mental as well as bodily),
it also has the effect, when the person who receives it is going to die,
of strengthening him to prepare for death. 
But it should not be called EXTREME UNCTION
Precisely what this adjective means is uncertain;
but even if it only means "the last of the unctions",
it has no meaning in the Anglican communion
in which there are no other unctions
(except the unction of a King at his coronation).
[Unction was first called "extreme" in the ninth century. 
Orthodox Eastern theologians object strongly to this adjective. 
Chardon, the Benedictine author of History of the Sacraments (1695-1771),
calls it "an abuse produced by an abuse". 
See Harris in Liturgy and Worship, p. 537.]

V. Unction is neither "Faith Healing"
nor "Psychological Treatment"

The unction of the sick is not to be confused either with FAITH HEALING
and there is nothing magical or miraculous about it. 
It is a sacrament of the Church and can only be administered to the members,
and by the priests, of the Church. 
Its effect is to strengthen the sick man in spirit and in body. 
It does not necessarily cure him,
and it is of course in no way a substitute for the work of the physician.

The gift of healing (I Cor.12.28),
though similar in its effects to the sacrament of Unction,
is not to be confused with it. 
Every priest has the right and the duty of administering unction. 
But the gift of healing is a special gift bestowed on some laymen as well as on some priests, and even on persons who are not Christians. 
There are "faith healing" sects, which devote themselves chiefly to healing. 
Faith healers who forbid the sick to use ordinary scientific means of recovery are to be avoided. 
The Church always requires the fullest use of medical and surgical knowledge. 
The priest and the healer are to co-operate with the physician and the surgeon (Ecclus.38.1-14).

PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENT differs from both the sacrament of unction and from spiritual healing. 
It is a scientific method of which every priest who attempts to help the sick ought to know something, though he ought not to practice it himself unless he has been fully trained. 
For a full discussion of the whole subject, and the kindred subjects of exorcism and the treatment of neurosis and insanity, see Dr. Charles Harris in Liturgy and Worship, pp. 472-540. 
It is one of the functions of the Church to heal the sick,
but no one should attempt to do so unless he has been thoroughly trained
both in the spiritual and the physical aspects of disease.