In this thesis the rite of anointing the sick with oil blessed
for this purpose has been examined in its historic context beginning
with the Old Testament background and concluding with writings which
have become available in the present year (1973).
The Old Testament background and the New Testament use of oil
show that the injunction of James implied a union of religious and
medical weapons in the fight on illness. This was effected through
the use of oil, the medical specific of the age, and prayer, the
religious dimension of the rite. Thus it is shown that the use of
the, elders and their oil was not a replacement for the use of
ordinary care in the face of illness but rather was the combination
of all means available in an attempt to overcome the realm of illness
From this period the history of the rite has been traced up to
the time of the Protestant Reformation. During these centuries the
anointing of the sick came to be regarded as unction of the dying.
This transition period threw the ritual of anointing into a state of
confusion and this situation has not been reversed until the present
day attempt to reinstate the oil of the sick as a sacrament to be
sought by the seriously ill rather than by those who are in the actual
throes of death. The old idea of oil as a means of conveying
restoration to health and wholeness lost popular appeal at this time as
the beliefs of the general public were such that the rite was postponed
for fear of recovery and the resultant rigorous penitential requirements
which were associated with such cases. There were still to be found
those who were interested in the use of the rite in terms of James 5
where the purpose appears to be for health and wholeness and not for
death and life after death.
Thus at the time of the Reformation the position of the rite
was very confused. The official Church belief was that the oil was
effective in the cure of ills even though the popular belief was that
it was to be used at the point of death. With this confusion the
Reformers found another area at which to direct their attacks and this
they did by comparing the Epistle of James to the practices of the
day. Seeing a great deviation from the original meaning of the
injunction and regarding the possible superstitions which might evolve
from the rite, the ritual carne to be omitted from the religious life
of the Protestant Churches.
At this time Rome met problems of doctrine and the abuses which
were rampant within the Church through the Council of Trent, which
met from 1545 until 1563. At this assembly of the Church the sacraments,
among other things, were discussed and explained theologically. Extreme
unction was defined and commended to the populace of the Roman Catholic
Church in terms which were not in keeping with the popular attitudes
of the day. This doctrine was to be the official doctrinal position
of the Church until the present day revisions which were proclaimed
in January 1973. The decisions of Trent are examined and show the
teaching of the Church of Rome in reference to this ancient rite.
Following a discussion of Trent the modern Church is examined in
an attempt to indicate the beliefs which surround this ritual in the
present day. The Anglican Church's use of the oil of the sick seems
to have been fairly consistent throughout its history and this usage
has been in terms of the restoration to health of the patient anointed.
A brief sketch of this history will show how the sacramental ministry
has been regarded throughout the centuries by the Church in its official
and unofficial manifestations. Documents from various periods will
indicate the implicit beliefs surrounding the use of this ministry as performed within this denomination of Christianity.
Pentecostalist denominations, like several enthusiastic movements
in the past, use this ministry to the ill as they attempt to
exercise a ministry of healing in the present day. A cursory
examination of the roots of this movement of the modern Church
indicates that this is not a new phenomenon but a manifestation of a
recurring aspect of life within the Christian Church. The literature
on and about the healing ministry within this denomination is used to
indicate the place and meaning of this rite in the care of the sick.
The paucity of information within the writings on the use of chrism
as a ministry of the community of faith means that much has to be
derived by implication rather than from the content of theological
expositions or doctrinal assertions on the rite.
The modern Roman Catholic revisions of the sacrament of the sick
occupy much of the section devoted to modern Roman Catholic practices.
The theology of the Church as regards this rite can be seen from
reading the new rites for the sick and these show the movement of the
Church towards a new appreciation of the ancient significance of the
anointing of the members of the Church who are seriously ill. A perusal
of the prayers and liturgy indicate the meaning which is implied in
the use of the oil of the sick as it will be administered in the new rites which become effective on January 1, 1974.
The modern attitude appears to indicate cross -denominational
similarities with the function of the ritual anointing of the sick
being regarded by Anglicans, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics as a means of conveying the Church's ministry of healing to those members
of the community of faith who are ill. There are to be found in this
sacramental ministry to the sick certain qualities which have not
been given the attention which they deserve. Confrontation and mission
are to be found in the illness situation and these are not only directed
to the member who is ill but also speak to the community of faith in
its life and work. The use of suffering as a means of confrontation
and mission has been shown to operate effectively under the use of a ritual ministry such as the anointing of the sick. When this is the
case the community of faith through the unction of the sick makes of
illness a time when there is to be round the opportunity for health
and wholeness, the ancient and modern goal of the anointing of the
sick. This healing and wholeness have been examined and indicate the
similarities between medical wholeness and theological salvation,
both of which are psycho -somatic and sociological in nature.
The thesis concludes with a brief consideration cf some of the
implications of the consideration of this rite to the modern, and
especially the Protestant, Church.