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Views During the Third Period (750-1517 A.D.)

THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS

EXTREME UNCTION

(continued)Before we proceed with our criticism of the Roman Catholic doctrine in re their sacrament of Extreme Unction, we wish to quote from The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia. Volume IV offers the following comments on this subject, in addition to what we quoted in our preceding article: 

“Extreme unction was instituted according to Peter Lombard by the apostles, according to Alexander Hales by Christ, according to Bonaventura by the Holy Spirit through the apostles, according to Thomas Aquinas by Christ, but was promulgated by the apostles. The Council of Trent declares that, according to Mark 6:13, Christ suggested the sacrament, and that James, his brother, promulgated and recommended it. The material which is to be used in extreme unction is olive-oil consecrated by a bishop, and, according to a decision of Paul V, given in 1655, the oil is not effective unless so consecrated. Gregory XVI (1842) confirmed and further limited this decision by declaring that not even in case of extreme necessity could a priest consecrate oil for the purpose. The form of the sacrament was settled only after many discussions. With the growing tendency to look upon anointing as sacramental, the form of prayer was changed from the precatory to the declarative, and this was confirmed by the Council of Florence. The specific purpose and effect of extreme unction is somewhat indefinite. The Council of Trent declares that this sacrament completes not only penance, but the whole Christian life. Nevertheless, it does not occupy nearly the important position in the doctrinal system of the Roman Church taken by baptism, the mass, and penance; it is merely an annex to the latter sacrament to which it gives the character of preparation for death. A specific effect has never been attributed to it officially. Peter Lombard gives as the purpose the remission of sins and the alleviation of physical infirmity. Albert the Great declares that extreme unction could purify only from the remnants of sin which prevent the entrance of the soul into eternal rest. Thomas Aquinas defines these remnants as a spiritual weakness and lassitude which disqualify man for the full enjoyment of the life and grace of glory, and states that extreme unction is a medicine for both. He speaks of physical healing as a secondary effect, taking place when the primary purpose of the sacrament is not hindered but promoted. Bonaventura, on the other hand, teaches that the specific effect of extreme unction is the remission of venial sins which were completely obviated by this sacrament owing to its strengthening effect upon soul and body. The Council of Trent repeated all the positive doctrines of the theologians, and added the doctrine of unction with the Holy Spirit as the specific effect. These differences concerning the effect and purpose of extreme unction were unsatisfactory, and attempts were made at greater precision. The Roman Catechism assumes two effects, the remission of venial sins, and the removal of spiritual weakness and of any remaining traces of sin. Bellarmine, finally, attempts a precise definition of the “remnants of sin”; they are mortal or venial sins which men might commit after penance and the Eucharist; or sins which were not atoned for properly, because sick persons had unwittingly received in an improper manner, and, therefore, without the due effect. 

The olive-oil used in extreme unction is consecrated during the mass on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter, also called Holy Thursday. The word “maundy” is derived from the Latin mandatum(commandment), referring to John 13:34, and the day commemorates the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet). Each deanery (the office, revenue, residence, or jurisdiction of a dean) receives a certain amount for distribution among the parishes. The oil which is not used up within a year, is burned in the sanctuary lamp; if there be danger that the supply will be exhausted before the end of the year, small quantities of unconsecrated oil may be added. Only a priest or higher dignitary may administer this sacrament. Even the pope cannot authorize deacons and laymen to do so, although Innocent I implies that they may in case of necessity. The administrator acts as a representative of the whole Church; and for this reason it is desirable that several priests be present to take part in the ceremony. The regulations concerning the degree of sickness which entitles a person to receive the sacrament vary, but agree in the particular that the probability of recovery is excluded, and that the recipient must be conscious. The oil is to be applied to the eyes, ears, hands, nose, and mouth, and to the abdomen and the feet of males, but not of females. The sacraments of penance and of the Eucharist should as a rule precede extreme unction. 

The usage of the Greek Church differs widely from that of Rome both in methods of administration and in doctrine. There it is simply an anointing of the sick, and its purpose is the restoration of health, physical and spiritual. The place of administration is the church, if possible. The ritual is elaborate, and requires seven priests if they are procurable. The oil is consecrated on each occasion by the senior priest, and each priest repeats the full ceremony while seven selections are read each from the Epistles, Gospels, and collects. On Maundy Thursday the feast of euchelaion(“oil of prayer”) is observed, in which the whole congregation joins and is anointed. The frequent use of the sacrament is recommended. 

The Nestorians never use extreme unction; the Armenian Church has discontinued it.” —end of quote from The New Schaff -Herzog Religious Encyclopedia.

In our criticism of this Roman Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction we wish to make the following observations. First, what right does Rome have to elevate this practice to the position of a sacrament in the Church of God? We know, for example, that Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism. On the one hand, He simply “took over” the baptism as administered by John the Baptist. He surely recognized the baptism of His forerunner, did not baptize anew who had been baptized by John. And, on the other hand, in Matt. 28:18-19we read: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” We also know that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We need not quote the incident which occurred in the upper room the evening before His death. Besides, the institution by Christ of these two sacraments is not in dispute. But, where do we read in Holy Writ that the Lord instituted a sacrament of Extreme Unction? It is nowhere recorded. 

Secondly, Rome anathemizes, curses whoever denies that the Presbyters of the Church, whom James exhorts to be brought to anoint the sick, are not the priests who have been ordained by a bishop, but elders in each community. However, what right does Rome have to make and establish this observation and doctrine? James speaks of the “elders of the church” in James 5:14. Now we know that Scripture uses two words which denote this office in the Church of God: elder and overseer. The first word, elder, simply means: elder, refers to one that is advanced in life, and views this office from the aspect of its dignity. The other word is episkopos. From this word is, derived the word, bishop, and it means: overseer, emphasizing the specific function of this office. That these words, as referring to this office in the Church of God, are used indiscriminately is plain from the use of these words in the Word of God. Now Rome, if you please, has the boldness to declare that the name which James uses in James 5:14 to denote this office does not refer to the elders by age, or the foremost in dignity amongst the people, whereas the word as used by James literally means: elder. Besides, the qualifications for this office are recorded in passages such as I Tim. 3:1-7 and in I Pet. 5:1-4. We read in I Tim. 3:1-7: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour; given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre ; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” And the passage of I Pet. 5:1-4 reads as follows: “The elders which are among you I exhort, (notice, please, that the apostle uses the word “elder” here, — H.V.) who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, (notice, again, that the apostle instructs these “elders” to “take the oversight thereof, and “to take the oversight” is literally the idea of an “episkopos”; it is also for these reasons that we declare that the words: elder and “bishop” orepiskopos, are used indiscriminately — H.V.), not be constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage (Rome may well take this to heart also, H.V.), but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Rome may well take to heart what we read in I Tim. 3:1-7, that a bishop (elder or overseer) must be the husband of one wife. (This does not necessarily mean that he must have a wife, but that he may not have more than one wife, although it certainly does not forbid having a wife at all, as Rome teaches.) Hence, the “elder” of James 5:14 simply refers to the office of overseer or elder which functions in every church or congregation of the Lord. 

Thirdly, Rome’s only Scriptural proof is Mark 6:13 andJames 5:14-15. In Mark 6:13 we read: “And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” And James 5:14-15 reads as follows: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders 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, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Now it must be perfectly plain that Rome’s appeal to these passages as support for their doctrine of Extreme Unction is completely unfounded. However, to this we will call attention in our following article. We also wish to say a few words about this passage in James 5 in general. 

H.V.