Trialogus. Chapter 18. Of Extreme Unction
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3 min read
You have said quite enough on this subject, brother Phronesis; but inform me, I pray you, somewhat concerning the last sacrament, which is called extreme unction. It has its foundation in the passage, James 5., “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.”
This foundation for that sacrament does not appear to be adequate. For the faithful might urge with sufficient reason, that this holy apostle does not specify the last sickness, but merely says that consolation should be administered by the presbyter when anyone is sick; and as it is in the nature of oil, in those parts of the world, to promote the health of the body, so he mentions this anointing; not that the oil affects the soul, but the prayer of a devout priest poured forth, hath a healing effect, so that God helps the sickness of the soul. If that bodily anointing had been a sacrament in the sense in which it is now represented, Christ and his apostles would not have been silent respecting its promulgation and due administration. Nevertheless, I grant you that this corporal anointing is to some a sacrament, other things being equal; but it is then necessary that the presbyters should heal the sick with their own devout prayers. Still, beware, lest through too light a temper, you understand the words of the apostle imperfectly.
You may possibly err so far as to believe, that the mere fact that a priest has prayed for a sick man will be sufficient to remit any guilt that may attach to the latter. But many have been sick, and been anointed, who have, nevertheless, been doomed to everlasting condemnation. For it is not to be believed, that, insomuch as a priest so doth, his prayer of faith will save the sick, for then it would be a part of the faith of the church to believe, that whoever in his last moments should receive the sacrament, would be saved by faith in Christ, and this sacrament would then be the most necessary of all, for the recipient of the others may be finally impenitent, and be lost,—but so, without a doubt, may he be who receives this sacrament.
Thus in the sacrament of baptism, in that of confirmation, and in all the rest, hath Antichrist invented unauthorised ceremonies; and to the burden of the church, without warrant from Scripture, hath heaped them on subjected believers. But other necessary sacraments he has overlooked, as is seen in respect to the seven works of spiritual mercy, which ought to be a sacrament in the esteem of believers, and especially of priests. But this sacrament, though very necessary, inasmuch as it has no temporal gain going along with it, and is irksome to those in high places, is faithlessly neglected.
Whence it appears to me, that those who institute such private orders, and send forth such general rules, to cause sacraments of this nature to be universally received by those who are subject to them, blaspheme God, especially when God is pleased to save many without their receiving this sacrament. How like Antichrist is this presumption, for a prelate to assert, and without foundation maintain, that no one will be saved without partaking of a sacrament of this sort!
But whether a rich man, thus anointed, is permitted subsequently to recover, and whether the priest ought to have a certain knowledge, that the man so anointed will not survive, and whether this sacrament of extreme unction can be repeated, is a matter of doubt with many. But I leave it to the weak, uselessly to protract difficult questions of this nature. I merely state one thing as probable,—that a man thus sick, and thus anointed, and afterwards convalescent, cannot again receive the sacrament of extreme unction.