Anyone who thinks that any religious experience will protect them from problems, they are listening intently to a lie one way or another. Conversion includes a sense of meaning for ones existence but along the way of life there will be trials and tribulations including all parts of the person. By that time, if one has received the new birth in baptism, the oil in confirmation for growth then what about the healing and meaning for the rough passages?
This is among the implied contexts in the formal but general sense as the “laying of hands” in Hebrews 6:2.
But this is referred to in an authoritative and objective sense in James.
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up (James 5:13-15a).
Someone who is a student of the scriptures may look at this and wonder what is at issue. After all, Jesus said after his resurrection that laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover would follow those who believe (Mark 16:18 c).
There is a difference between the two contexts. In Mark 16:18 c the word used here is epitithēmi for “laying on of” and cheir for “hands”. The same Greek words are used in Hebrews 6:2. But we have scriptural means to say that it is a matter of context.
If I am gravely ill, a priest or bishop may come who has been anointed with an indelible mark on their character where they represent the priesthood of Christ which Thomas Aquinas concedes as the ultimate, central priesthood while believing in holy orders. It is a message for the one receiving that sacrament to have a context that the church on earth and in heaven is praying for him or her. In such a grave moment, there is the light of the hope of the gospel that is objectively known to happen through church history. However, as one who has been a charismatic Christian all of my life in different realms of Christianity I can say that laypeople can also lay hands on the sick and have hope for them to recovery.
There is no impersonation by me of being in any holy orders. I have known of many people being healed through Christians who did not have holy orders. However, when it is happening, the context is a subjective experience and does not have the context of someone being set aside to communicate the transcendent and above earth perspective. Also, if he or she accompanies the healing with some teaching or method that is heterodox then the accountability is harder to enforce with less to lose. Being suspended from holy orders ministry is a grave issue that is hoped to not happen but at least can with much on the ordinary minister to lose.
Below we some non-sacramental healing happening that does not conflict with the sacramental perspective.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).
Yes, it is true that Philip the evangelist was in holy orders. However he was a deacon and not an elder (presbuteros from which is contracted in English etymology as priest). But as we seen in James 5 above, it was expected one could call an elder. So he was set up on that respect with the same faculties as any layperson. No anointing of oil but God used him powerfully.
As we see in ongoing church history, the anointing of oil as a sacrament of healing continually affirmed. In non-sacramental and anti-conformist sensibilities, there could be a revulsion to any uniform ceremony and it must have been developed in the medieval ages. A look further in church history is going to show them to be historical.
“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” (Origen,184 AD, Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419).
There was not only an emphasis of form but all of matter in the application.
St. Aphraates, “the Persian Sage”, he wrote of the various uses of holy oil, saying it contained the sign “of the sacrament of life by which Christians [in baptism], priests [in ordination], kings, and prophets are made perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents” (St. Aphraates, Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, “Patrol. Syriaca”, vol. I, p. lv, 336-345 AD).
In a biography of St. Augustine, who was a bishop, it is written that Augustine applied this Sacrament of Holy Unction thus.
“[T]he rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows 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”(Possidius,”Life of Augustine” c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56).
By this matter being consecrated by consecrated men, it was understood that anointing oil for healing would effectively be an objective demonstration of God’s power.
We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity” (Bishop Serapion 350 AD, The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1).
This sacrament that is at its heart Christ founded and Christo-centric has always been tied as a comfort for those leaving the church on earth to the church in heaven with the deathbed context of the Viaticum.
Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum” (canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal happiness with him in heaven (Council of Nicaea, 325).
To discount this quote causes two problems for those who want to discount their implications as part of the historical Christian faith. First, it is the problem of saying this council was gravely wrong on this but completely right about the other part that defined orthodox Christology and other doctrines that non-sacramental Christians espouse. A great hurdle arises again for how just the latter is not up for a revisionist history and abuse of the historical-critical method. Second, it makes casual in passing reference to this being an ancient practice. Are we to limit it to 50 years? A hundred years? The veracity of the historical claim of the sacrament of healing holds up quite well in tandem with the fact that as an ecumenical council this is both an ancient and widespread context. It is implied that it was applicable to the beginning of Christianity.
This was a reference point for someone in their relationship with Christ and his mystical body which is the church. This is to be understood as tied to being in communion with Jesus in his authority which is delegated to a visible church with his delegated authority.
As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church (Caesar of Arles, early 500’s. Sermons 13:3).
We are told from scripture that Jesus is always the same. He also made a promise that the church he founded would always stand. Not only can we see in this sacrament a reference point but a power point. And such power is upon the earth due to the nature of the Holy Spirit and grace to be known in the Body of Christ in both objective and subjective contexts.
There is not only a beauty to the Sacrament of Healing but also to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. They go together and there is both rich scriptural and patristic content to support that which we will next see.