And Hannah prayed and said 'My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is held high in the Lord . . . . '
'The Lord judges the ends of the earth, and gives strength to his king, and lifts up the horn of his anointed'. 1 Samuel 2.1, 10.
'Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her'. Matthew 26.13; Mark 14.9
The illustration is taken from
painting of Julian's 'Showings' in St Gabriel's Chapel, Community of
Hallows, Ditchingham, Near Bungay, Suffolk. Painted by the Australian
Alan Oldfield, it was earlier exhibited in Norwich Cathedral.
Sister Pamela, C.A.H. Reproduced by permission of the Community of All
Hallows and the Friends of Julian.
om Gregory Dix, O.S.B., studied the development of the Christian sacraments, stating in The Shape of the Liturgy and in The Theology of Confirmation in Relation to Baptism that Christian liturgy preceded the Gospels. For the Lambeth Greek Essay I had already traced the simple Christian sacraments in contradistinction to the costly Jewish sacrifices in Luke's Gospel, seeing these as native to Mediterranean culture, John choosing free water for baptism, Christ inexpensive wine for marriage and daily bread for communion, but the multiplying Maries and the other women who followed Christ purchasing costly olive oil and rare spices for anointing. I now chose to study anointing for the Gregory Dix Memorial Essay.
Then The Oil of Gladness
came to hand. Published in 1993, nearly fifty years later than Dom
Dix's 1946 University of Oxford Public Lecture on Confirmation and
Oil of Gladness also is a product of the Anglo-Catholicism's
Glorious'. These texts look back yet another fifty and hundred years toArthur
James Mason's 'The Relation of Confirmation to Baptism as Taught in
Scripture and the Fathers' , published in 1893, again a work of
Anglo-Catholicism has sought to heal the rift caused by the
This essay, prompted by these works, will first trace unction and its
'Royal Priesthood' in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Testament as
a liturgical continuum. It will also study the association of anointing
with women, first in Israel and then in Christendom. Then it will
the use of anointing in the Church's liturgies of baptism and
ordination and coronation, and of the sick and the dead. Last, it will
trace the vestiges of the 'Royal Priesthood' in the Church of England,
and suggest a revival of the Early Church's sealing with chrism to be
out in the great cathedrals of our land by our bishops.
When we seek out the words for 'olive', 'oil', 'anoint' and 'horn' in a Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible we find that they occur in three contexts. The first is that of peace and fecundity, for example, the olive branch the dove carries back to Noah in Genesis 8.11, the land rich with wheat, vines and olive of Judges 15.5, and the children who stand about one's table like olive shoots in Psalm 128.3, all of which are 'zayith'. The fruit of that olive provided oil for lamps, for the cleansing and healing of skin, and for food; in the Mediterranean it functioned as does our beeswax and tallow for candles or electricity for lights, our soap to cleanse the skin and our butter for nourishment. The second context is that of anointing, first with consecrating priests and the furnishings of the Tabernacle of the Ark, 'mashach', that word being repeated also in the later context of the anointing of kings by priests, until the two are joined in Zechariah where the two anointed ones, Zerubbabel, Jesus' ancestor, and Joshua, Jesus' namesake, who are Priest and King rule together. From that word comes 'mashiyach', 'Messiah', the anointed one. The substance used for that anointing is the omnipresent olive oil, 'shemen', to which at times precious spices were added. It was used at God's command to anoint Aaron Israel's High Priest (Exodus 29, Psalm 133.2) and Samuel used it to anoint Saul and David, and Zadok to anoint Solomon as Israel's Kings (1 Samuel 10, 16, 1 Kings 1). An associated word is 'horn', the container for that oil, and idiomatically a way of saying that one is in a state of joy and prosperity, having an abundance of oil to pour upon oneself and others, 'qeren'.
Hannah exults over the birth of the miraculous and priestly child Samuel, speaking twice of the horn of oil, 'qeren', with which he will anoint first Saul (1 Samuel 10) and then David (1 Samuel 16). The first line in the Hebrew says 'And Hannah prayed and said ''My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is held high in the Lord'' '. The last line of her canticle, her psalm, echoes the first, saying that ' ''The Lord judges the ends of the earth, and gives strength to his king, and lifts up the horn of his anointed'' '. Hannah's song will be taken up in turn by Mary concerning the birth of her child, the Messiah, in the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), though it is in Zachariah's Benedictus (Luke 1.69) that the Greek reflects the Hebrew and gives again the image of the horn of the anointing 'And he raised up for us a horn, ['keras'] of salvation in the house of his servant David].
Samuel and David's Temple was the Tent of Meeting. Solomon then built the Temple of stone and cedar. Solomon married. Perhaps Psalm 45 with its lovely eighth verse, 'Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows', that oil mixed with myrrh, aloes and cassia, was written to celebrate that marriage. This psalm is in the same genre as is the Song of Solomon. And it is a genre which women composed, preparing one of their number for marriage. But its courtliness, its flattery, its elitism, counters Israel's true theology.
Israel was God's nation, his kingdom of priests, and all his people were his anointed ones, living in a theocracy. In Judaism and Christianity, there is a celebration of the 'world upside down', such as we see in Hannah's Song, in Mary's Magnificat, and in Christ's Beatitudes, where the poor and downtrodden shall be raised up from the dust and be worthy of a seat among princes (1 Samuel 2.8). In Judaism it is the mother who begins the Sabbath by blessing and lighting the lamps - now candles but once of olive oil - while the father blesses the wine and the bread - in that order - and it is the child who begins the Passover by asking a question, all of these celebrants being of the laity. Hence Mary could have dignity in Joseph's household in Nazareth and Jesus could question the doctors even in the Temple. So had Miriam (whose name is Mary), her mother, and Pharoah's daughter together saved the child Moses, allowing for the liberating Exodus from Egyptian bondage to occur and for Aaron's priestly caste to commence. So had David the shepherd boy become king. Victor Turner's anthropological studies have shown how the most powerful rituals, such as pilgrimage, interrupt hierarchies by their insistence upon liminal states in which all become equal, 'He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away' (Luke 1.52-53).
That humbling of hierarchies
not only with unction but also with blessing. Richard Hooker saw the
form of blessing as continuing into Christian confirmation, the
of hands as inherited from the act of blessing conferred by Israel upon
Ephraim and Manassah, Joseph's sons. In the Hebrew Scriptures and in
Parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger child is favoured over the
which Christian exegetes would come to read as God's preference for the
Gentile as younger brother over the Jew as older brother. Rembrandt
painted the scene of Jacob's Blessing with the younger child raised
the older, hands crossed upon his breast, head bowed in prayer, their
beautiful mother the witness.
First John, then Jesus, sought to reform Israel back to being a priestly people that cared for the orphan and the widow. John made it possible for such cleansing to take place without blood sacrifices bought by money, but instead with the use of simple and free water, a cleansing accompanied by conversion, while he lived himself in the Wilderness in simplicity and poverty. Jesus added to John's use of water, wine and bread, available to any Mediterranean peasant. Mary (in Luke, an unnamed woman, who in the medieval tradition was thought to be Mary Magdalene), then came and added to these substances oil from the olive, mixed with precious spices.
When Christ came to be anointed by a woman at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, two days before the Last Supper, he chided the chiding disciples, among them Judas, saying that what she has done will be told in remembrance of her wherever theGospel is proclaimed in the whole world (Matthew 26.13; Mark 14.9; see also Luke 7.36-50, who had the event be earlier and in Galilee; John 12, who had it be six days before Passover). Jesus' words echo Psalm 44.8,18, which had described the anointing with the oil of gladness, then stated to the bride of the marriage, 'I will make your name to be remembered from one generation to another; therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever'. Jesus added, in three of the accounts, that this anointing by the woman was in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26.12; Mark 14.8; John 12.7).
In Judaism it was forbidden for a lay person to make or apply such chrism, which is olive oil mixed with myrrh and balm (Exodus 30.22-33). The tale of the anointing of Christ by a sinful woman occurs in all four Gospels, albeit with differences. That tale is followed by the 'idle' one (Luke 24.11) of the women, including Mary Magdalene, coming to the tomb with spices to anoint and embalm the corpse of Christ (Matthew 27.55-28.10, Mark 15.40-16.8 and shorter ending, Luke 23.55-24.11, John 20.1-2, 11-18), who thus become the first (though not legal), witnesses to the Resurrection. John, Jesus and whoever Mary was, whether the Magdalene or the sister of Martha and Lazarus or another, and the other women who followed Jesus from Galilee, supporting the disciples out of their resources (Luke 7.1-3), ministering to them, made it possible for all Israelites, women as well as men - and later all Gentiles - to be a priestly people consecrated to God.
Jesus' band, with John's
his, changed the rules, reversing hierarchies into liminality, Jesus'
even including women. John and Jesus together instituted a powerful
reform of Judaism back to its earliest theocratic principles - which
resisted utterly by those who stood to lose from that reform, those who
had gained privileges, wealth and power from the fear and corruption
conquest brings, such men as the privileged Priests and Scribes, and
from those normally opposed to them, the Pharisees, who, in this
colluded with them in plotting to destroy their critic and judge, Jesus.
In Zachariah's Benedictus or Blessing, Aaron's oil for the anointing of priests and the house of David come together splendidly in one verse, 'He has raised up for us a horn of salvation in the house of his servant David' (Luke 1.69), the priest with his words anointing the child, yet to be born, a king, as had Samuel anointed David, as is even England's Queen anointed at her Coronation. Zachariah adds that through this Saviour, the nation of Israel will be consecrated and righteous before God (Luke 1.75). When the angels told the shepherds of the birth of the child, they announced, 'that to you this day is born a saviour who is Anointed Lord, in the city of David' (Luke 2.11). When Zachariah's son, John the Baptist, heralded Christ as baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit and flame, he had just been asked if he were not himself the Christ, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed (Luke 3.15). Yet, though the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ, as had the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary his mother at the Annunciation, no physical anointing with oil occurred in the scene of baptism. Jesus next, filled with the Spirit, was driven into the Wilderness for the Temptation, returning to the Galilee region after forty days. Then, when Jesus read the passage from Isaiah in the Synagogue at Nazareth , he recited and applied to himself the words, 'The spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me to bring the Gospel to the poor' (Isaiah 61.1). His audience, his congregation in the Synagogue, would know that those verses go on to speak further of the oil of the anointing, of 'the oil of gladness instead of mourning' (Isaiah 61.3; Psalms 45, 133; Hebrews 1.9). This was Jesus' most overt 'kyrygma' in Luke, during his lifetime, announcing himself as Messiah. He immediately learned not to do so, barely escaping with his life from the enraged crowd at Nazareth.
Strangely, that anger was prompted by his preaching to them of Elijah being sent by God in time of drought not to his own people but to a Syro-Phoenician widow, a Gentile, who had only a jar of meal and a cruse of oil, and of another miracle, where Elisha healed the Syrian leper Naaman at the urging of the little Jewish slave handmaid. In the first miracle Elijah miraculously made the meal and oil continuously replenish themselves and, further, raised the widow's son from the dead (Luke 4.26; 1 Kings 17). Shortly before the second story, in that same scroll, Jesus' audience would remember, was the story of the widow of a prophet whose children were to be taken as slaves and who only had a jar of oil, which Elisha in turn had miraculously be kept replete, filling many other containers with which to pay her debts (2 Kings 4,5).
The reading of Isaiah 61.1, was a verbal proclamation, a speech act, concerning the Messianic anointing - which linked the similarly named Isaiah, 'Yeshaiah,' and Jesus, 'Yeshua'. Yet nowhere do we hear of the physical act of anointing, though often we hear of Jesus as called the Christ, the Anointed One, except in these two shadow stories concerning widows, one a Gentile, the other a Jew, and except in the story of the sinful woman who gate-crashed Simon the Pharisee's dinner party and who washed Christ's feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and kept kissing them and anointing them from an alabaster jar of myrrh (Luke 7.38). Christ, then, turned to Simon and said among other things that he had not anointed his head with oil but that she was anointing his feet with myrrh (Luke 7.46). The oil for the anointing of priests and kings and guests and recovered lepers and the dead was concocted from olive oil mixed with myrrh and other precious spices. It is following this episode that we have Peter, another Simon, blurt out that Jesus is the Anointed of God (Luke 9.20). The Gospels collude in associating women with Christ's anointing.
On the way to Jerusalem while traveling on the border of Samaria with Galilee Jesus met a group of ten lepers. He told them they were to show themselves to the priest. One turned back on finding himself cleansed and healed and praising God, thanked Jesus, who asked where the other nine were. Jesus then told this one leper, who was a Samaritan, that his faith had healed him (Luke 17.11-19). Edersheim gave a careful account of the ritual for the cleansing of lepers-which concluded with the anointing with oil. In this instance, the tenth leper had not needed that Temple cleansing, his belief in the Christ being sufficient.
In Jerusalem, Jesus customarily spent his nights on the Mount of Olives , a 'Sabbath day's walk' from the Temple, to which he and his disciples went even following the 'Last' Supper (Luke 22.39). To cross from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives they had to pass over the defiling, polluting tombs of the Jewish dead that lie everywhere in the ravine of Kidron, which were carefully white-washed to prevent such danger a month prior to Passover.
When next we hear of anointing it was again to be by women but this time it did not happen. The women who had followed him from Galilee at early dawn brought the spices they had prepared to anoint his body but it was gone from the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Joanna, Herod's steward's wife, and the others then told the disciples of finding the tomb empty and of the angels, the disciples considering these things but an idle tale, until Peter checked into the story himself (Luke 23.56-24.1-12,22-24).
In Hebrew, Jesus is spoken of as the Messiah, which in the Greek Gospels becomes 'Christos', both words meaning the 'Anointed One'. In the Gospels his anointing is not a priestly one by a male, but a lay anointing by a woman. While in the parable in the Gospel the anointing with oil and wine of the wounded traveler was effected neither by the priest nor the Levite but by the outsider, the almost Gentile, the Samaritan. Indeed there is a Messianic vocabulary in the Greek Testament, a clustering of words, of healing, of mercy, of coming, of freedom. And the word 'anointed', reflects as well, 'kind, loving, good, merciful'. Similarly, in Hebrew, there are echoes between the names of Joshua, 'Yehoshua,' and Jesus, 'Yeshua,' and the words for salvation, deliverance, help. Jesus Christ in his names, his words, and his deeds extended the franchise of holiness, of the royal priesthood, to all who believed on him, children, slaves, women, men, tax-collectors, lepers, paralytics, lunatics, beggars, the lame, the blind, the deaf, proclaiming, 'Whoever receives a child in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me' (Luke 9.48).
Jesus told women and men that
faith had saved them. He did so in the double miracle (and double
of Jairus' twelve-year-old daughter raised from the dead and the
woman who touched the fringe of his garment who had been haemorrhaging
for twelve years to whom Jesus said, 'Daughter, your faith has saved
go in peace' (Luke 8.48). He did so to the Samaritan leper. He did so
the thief on the cross at his right hand. He implied again and again to
unclean and criminal lay women and men that they had returned, through
their faith and metanoia, as were also children in their
to being in his image who had created them, that they were saved and
their sins forgiven them, that they had entered the Kingdom of God. He
preached not a religion of Pharisaic separatedness, but one of global
The Epistle to the Hebrews (5.6,10, 6.20, 7.1-28) used Psalm 110.4,5's line, 'You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek', words vowed by God in the Psalm, allowing Hebrews 7.17 to stress instead the priesthood of the Gentile Priest King of Salem, Melchizedek, rather than the Jewish High Priest, Aaron, partly because its author cannot find that Jesus, from the house of Judah, had any priestly associations (Hebrews 7.13-14), but more importantly because this was a priesthood of simplicity and generosity, a mystical priesthood of the sacraments of water, wine, bread and oil, rather than of blood sacrifices, of heave and wave offerings, of sin and thank offerings, of the blood of bulls, of lambs, of goats, of birds, with scarlet wool and hyssop, today no longer carried out except by Samaritans and in Islam. It is as if the circle of Paul, if not Paul himself, with people such as Barnabas, Luke, and perhaps Apollos and Prisca, were helping shape Judaism into Christianity. This mystical priesthood of Melchizedek, in the realm of eternity rather than of time, and with the simplest sacraments, is of peaceable inclusion, rather than of rigorous exclusion.
Related to the Epistles to the
and of Barnabas is also one written by Peter or an elder of Rome
God's words to Moses, 1 Peter 2.9, 'But you are a chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, that you might
proclaim his redemptive acts', which it embeds in the words from Isaiah
Jesus spoke concerning the stone the builders rejected but which became
the head of the cornerstone of the new Temple (Isaiah 8.14-15, Luke
The concept is echoed also in Revelation 5.10, 'You have made them a
and priests to God and they will rule on earth.' Israel had been
by Rome, but simple fishermen like Peter and Andrew, tax collectors
Matthew Levi (is he a tax collector for Rome or for Jerusalem, for
or for the Temple?), even Pharisaic tent-makers, like Paul, Prisca and
Aquila, came to conquer their conquerors and under Helena
Constantine the Roman Empire adopted for its official state religion,
the religion of the oppressed, of women and slaves.
In Christianity, Christians, women and men, follow Christ, becoming in his image, first with the cleansing from sin through baptism by water, then with the consecration into holiness through the anointing with oil, next to be sustained with the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The sacrament that once made Christians most truly 'Christian' in the early Church was decidedly that carried out with the oil of the anointing.
Gregory Dix's The Shape of
Liturgy traced the Early Church's continuation of these Gospel
derived from Jewish liturgical practices, until the centrality of the
representing the anointed Christ with the power to anoint all
and served by Deacons for men, Deaconesses for women, in this task,
lost with the introduction of Priests taking over most of the Bishop's
and Deacons' and Deaconesses' roles. (In so doing Christianity perhaps
became again Levitical and Pharisaic.) Gerald Vann in The Divine
cited St Ambrose, 'We are all anointed into one holy priesthood', and
at length the common priesthood of the laity in which we all share. The
High Priest Jesus inaugurated the possibility that all humankind could
be of the Royal Priesthood, in his image, who created us and who
or, as Julian of Norwich would say, 'at oned
', for us, 'noughting our sins.
Patristic texts used typology, blending the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Tertullian noted of anointing, 'After we come up from the washing and are anointed with the blessed unction, following that ancient practice by which, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses, there was a custom of anointing them for priesthood with oil out of a horn. That is why [the high priest] is called a christ, from "[chrism"] which is "[anointing"]: and from this also our Lord obtained his title'. Tertullian continued by speaking of the baptismal waters as like the Flood and the oil as like the olive branch in the dove's mouth. The Didascalia Apostolorum discussed the bishop's sealing of the baptismal candidate with the words 'You are my son: this day I have begotten you' (Psalm 2.7, Hebrews 1.5,9, 2.11-12,17, 5.5).
St Cyril of Jerusalem in his catechetical lectures told the candidates that the anointing of exorcism made them 'partakers of the good olive tree, Jesus Christ', and that they are anointed and 'properly called Christs, and of you God said ''Touch not my Christs'' (Psalm 105.15)', adding that with the anointing with chrism they are now 'Christians'. Sermons preached by St John Chrysostom, discovered in 1955, also spoke of the anointing 'for through the chrism the cross is stamped upon you'. These texts wrote, as in the Syrian 'Narsai', of the oil as a visible symbol of the Holy Spirit and of its strengthening and healing powers. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and James of Edessa similarly discussed the use of the oil of anointing in baptism.
Ambrose, who baptized Augustine, wrote of the anointing as from Psalm 133 and I Peter 2.9, of the ointment upon the head that ran down Aaron's beard, and of the chosen generation as priestly and precious. Augustine, too, described baptism as followed by anointing. He spoke of that anointing as the consecrating to the 'royal priesthood'-'just as we call all "[Christians"] by reason of the mystical chrism, so we call all "[priests,"] because they are members of the one Priest', the one Christ. He also stated, 'The anointing belongs to all Christians . . . and we all, in Him, are both christs and Christ' and 'Christ means anointed; He is called Christ from the chrism: - in Hebrew, Messias, in Greek, Christ ; in Latin, Anointed'.
The Councils also provide information concerning anointing. The First Council of Toledo, A.D. 398, decreed that the bishop shall bless the chrism and send it into his diocese by means of deacons and sub-deacons from each church before Easter. (Bishop Eric Kemp so blesses the chrism annually for the clergy of the Diocese of Chichester.) Leo spoke of the blessing of the chrism as taking place on Maundy Thursday. The First Council of Orange's Canon 2, 441, legislated that chrismation with chrism should only occur once, either at baptism, or, if omitted then, at confirmation. A letter from Pope Innocent to Decentius, 446, stated that consignation with chrism should only be carried out by bishops, not priests, citing the Acts of the Apostles which told how Peter and John were directed to deliver the Holy Spirit to Samaritans already baptized by Philip. Priests could anoint the head with the chrism but only the bishop could mark the cross upon the brow in sign of the Holy Spirit.
These Fathers and Councils described adult baptism. Confirmation was to become separated from baptism where infant baptism became the norm. Travelling through time, let us look at the later forms, for infants, first in the 'Ambrosian Manual' from Milan which, though tenth century, likely still reflected aspects of Augustine's baptism at the hands of Bishop Ambrose. It spoke of the chrism as poured into the font crosswise, then the baptism in the mixed water and oil, followed by the sign of the cross made on the infant's head with chrism. We read of this in Bede and Cuthbert. The Stowe Missal from Ireland stated the same. Likewise did the Sarum Rite. Then in Rome from John the Deacon and in Charlemagne's Empire under Alcuin of York, we learn of the use also of a chrism cloth of white linen placed on the head of the initiates as emblem of their royal priesthood.
At the Reformation, which took
in the north of Europe where the olive does not grow, the use of oil
dropped. In relation to this agronomy the Sarum Missal had already
the use of candles in baptism which the Alternative Service Book now,
restores. The Protestant Church of England only retained unction for
anointing of the monarch. However, of the XXXIX Articles, Article XXVII
gave a trace of the earlier anointing, reading in part 'our adoption to
be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed'.
ASB has restored the anointing with oil or chrism in its rubrics for
and confirmation but as an option.
In Hebrew and Greek cultures, though less so in Roman, a rigorous separation of gender was maintained, women and men worshipping in different parts of the synagogue and Temple. Therefore deaconesses were involved in the more intimate actions of the baptisms of women candidates, while deacons oversaw that of men. The Didascalia Apostolorum gave a careful account of these customs, while noting that for men and for women this was done 'as of old the priests and kings were anointed in Israel'. The Apostolic Constitutions noted that women deaconesses anoint women candidates 'for there is no necessity that the women shall be seen by men', but that 'in the laying on of hands the bishop shall anoint her head only as the priests and kings were formerly anointed . . . from Christ the Anointed, "[a royal priesthood and an holy nation"]'.
The Testamentum Domini showed how widows and deaconesses stood with the bishop, priests, deacons and readers at that altar. The same text gave the Offices widows and virgins, God's 'handmaidens', prayed at midnight and at dawn. The world's oldest codex is a fourth-century Psalter found in the grave of a twelve-year-old girl in a pauper cemetery near Cairo. The late fifth century Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua's Canon 12 said 'Let widows and nuns who are chosen for ministering to female candidates for baptism be so instructed in their duty that they may be able in clear and sensible language to teach the uneducated and rustic women at the time of their preparation for baptism how they are to reply to the questions of him that baptizes them, and in what manner they are to live when they have been baptized.'
The ordination of these deaconesses spoke openly of their role as mirroring that of the prophetesses of the Hebrew Scriptures, for instance in the Apostolic Constitutions: 'Concerning a deaconess . . . O bishop, you shall lay your hands upon her, in the presence of the presbytery. and of the deacons and the deaconesses, and say: O eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the creator of man and of woman, who filled with the Spirit Miriam, and Deborah, and Hannah, and Hulda; who did not disdain that your only-begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tent of witnesses and in the temple appointed women to be keepers of your holy gates; do you yourself now look upon this your servant, presented for the office of a deacon, and give her your Holy Spirit . . .' That text continues that virgins and widows were not ordained but simply admitted into the Orders of Virgins and Widows. It was from these Orders in the Early Church that nuns and their convents had their origin. Nuns historically preceded monks. Abelard, who knew the Lives of the Desert Fathers, including the Letters of Jerome to holy women, explained to Heloise that she, as an abbess, was a deaconess.
The paradox is that, despite
importance of women in the Early Church, there is a liturgical
of Christ's statement that the woman's anointing of him shall be remembered
wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole earth (Matthew 26.13; Mark
When William Sawtre, Margery Kempe' s chaplain at St Margaret's, Lynn, was condemned as a lapsed heretic on February 24, 1399, he was first fully garbed as a priest, then his chalice and paten and priestly raiment taken from him, next his Gospel as deacon, down to his candle-lighter as acolyte, and finally his keys as doorkeeper being removed from him, at which point he had become again a lay person and could be led forth to be burned at the stake. A pope is also a bishop; a bishop, a priest; a priest, a deacon. Until recently, a priest even wore the maniple of the deacon, the towel of the servant, on his arm. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote movingly of how 'King Jesus, when about to be our Physician, having girded himself with the napkin of human nature, ministered to what was sick'. Christians are likewise servants, the Pope the 'servant of the servants of God'.
In none of these explications of ecclesiastical hierarchies is anointing mentioned. However, Arthur Mason, in a footnote, explains 'that the use of unction in Ordination is modern (not earlier than the ninth century), local (unknown in the East) and partial (an unction of the hands only). That of which unction is the symbol was held to have been given once for all,' that is, to all baptized Christians as of the Royal Priesthood. The Early Church's anointing with chrism made all believers priestly. Today, however, Roman Catholic priests are anointed with the oil of the catechumens, Roman Catholic bishops consecrated with chrism.
Unlike Christendom's theocratic Royal Priesthood, the very word 'monarch' signifies 'one ruler'. Ancient Mesopotamia had anointed kings and priestesses. The Hebrew Scriptures spoke of the anointing of priests, prophets and kings and those words embed themselves in the liturgies for Christian anointing. Jeffrey John notes that the Holy Spirit 'anointed' Jesus at the Jordan the Messianic King, echoing with 'This is my beloved Son', the words of the Coronation Psalm 2, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' Gerhart Ladner in The Idea of Reform studied Byzantine theocracy, where the Emperor was the 'Logomimesis', the 'Imitation of the Word', and Ernst Kantorowicz showed how even the imperial and now Christian coinage came to be stamped with the head of Christ rather than Caesar. Kantorowicz' The King's Two Bodies discussed how medieval and Tudor England - and Shakespeare - saw King and Realm as mirroring each other, each having obligations to the other. Then Kantorowicz demonstrated that system's breakdown with the Stuart adoption of the unilateral Byzantine 'Divine Right of Kings', upsetting a delicate constitutional balance and prompting Civil War and Regicide.
Despite these political
our Christian monarchs of England, whether Roman or Anglican, are
with oil and with chrism at their coronations. L. G. Wickham Legg and
Rowell have movingly discussed this national heritage. To their
let us add Handel's music, 'Zadok the Priest,' its words taken from the
prayer for the consecration of the oil, its reference being to the
of Solomon, Israel's wise monarch and Temple architect. Today our
Head of the Church of England is the Queen.
A Roman Catholic child is baptized with salt, olive oil, water and chrism. An Anglo-Catholic child was, until quite recently, baptized just with water and words. Perhaps at Confirmation the Bishop may now sign the candidates' foreheads with the cross in chrism. Kings, Queens, Priests and Deacons are now anointed, but for the Anglican laity, until recently, there was only, and rarely at that, Extreme Unction at approaching death. Today, though there is a return to more use of the oil of anointing, we have largely lost this major Gospel sacrament in the Church of England specifically and in Protestantism generally. Partly this is because in northern Europe the olive cannot be made to grow. But today's technology, transportation and marketing once again makes it possible for those who read the Bible's pages to use also the products of which it speaks, the fruit of the Mediterranean earth and the work of Mediterranean hands. Once it was olive oil mixed with spices sealed upon the brow by the Bishop which made us 'Christian', meaning 'anointed', as does the epithet 'Christ' which we use of Jesus. It can be so again.
The 'Vision Glorious' is that
are in Christ's image, we are, as Julian said, 'even-Cristens', equally
Christians, in God's eternity, rather than in time and space's unfair
Therefore Christ's anointing, by the Holy Spirit and by Mary Magdalene
and the other women, is also ours. Jesus' 'Gospel' is that Israel's
Spirit cannot be destroyed by Rome, but will convert the whole world to
God, who is 'Abba', ' Our
Father '. Perhaps, in this 'Decade of Evangelism', of this 'Good
we could contemplate reforming the Reformation's Church of England to
again truly 'Christian'. Perhaps our anointed Queen as the Head of our
Church of England, with the Head Rabbi, with Cardinal Hume, with the
of Canterbury, could inaugurate this unction, this blessing, at her
Thursday Service at Westminster Abbey ,
it ecumenically upon her people. Perhaps such an anointing could permit
Anglo-Catholics to receive at Roman Catholic Eucharists. Perhaps the
of England could, throughout our land, resurrect this nearly 'Lost'
calling upon all to become truly 'Christened' at an Order of Anointing
(as in Orders of Baptism, of Matrimony) in our Cathedrals, restoring to
these beautiful structures their liturgical reason for being, the Order
being presided over by our Bishops, assisted by Deacons and
as in early Christianity, at the same time that we give thanks to the
of the Book for what we have inherited with them, and so become a holy
people, a people reconsecrated to God.
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I wrote this essay as an Anglican Novice in the Community of the Holy Family now ten years ago. Since then I have fled to Italy, become anointed Catholic by Don Divo Barsotti, at Candelmas, 1998, then Consecrated, at Epiphany, 1998, then repeating the Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, at Pentecost, 1999, again at the Assumption 2006, Vows I had already made to God as Anglican, 15 August 1996. There are ways, needing to be further opened up, for the Laity to be Consecrated, deepening our Baptismal Promises, our Christenings, as monasticism lived in the world.
Meanwhile, I have changed from advocating
finding this also can be abused, to the simple blessing and giving of
leaves themselves. We have now sent these blessed olive leaves to
Omagh, Goteborg, Istanbul and to many individuals for trauma healing.
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