Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Anointing

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ANOINTING, the practice of pouring an aromatic oil upon the head or over the whole body, has been in use from the earliest times among Oriental nations, from whom it passed, chiefly in its ceremonial application, to the nations of the west. It served three distinct purposes, being regarded as a means of health and comfort, as a token of honour, or as a symbol of consecration. Reasoning from analogy, it seems probable that anointing was practised for sanative reasons before it became a religious ceremonial, but it is impossible to determine this with certainty. Its adoption as a sanative agent was dictated chiefly by the conditions of climate in the East. Used as it generally was in conjunction with the bath, it closed the pores, repressed undue perspiration, and so prevented loss of strength. It was also regarded as a protection against the heat of the sun, and the oil, being aromatic, counteracted disagreeable smells. The anointing of the head as a token of honour paid to guests and strangers is mentioned in Scripture (Ps. xxiii. 5; Luke vii. 46), and was customary among the Egyptians (Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, ii. 213), the Greeks, and the Romans. Anointing as a symbol of consecration was practised among the Jews from the time of the exodus from Egypt, as part of the ceremonial investiture with the sacred offices of prophet (1 Kings xix. 16), priest (Exod. xxix. 7), and king (Sam. ix. 16). It does not seem to have been essential to the consecration of a prophet, and, as each individual holder of the office of priest or king was not anointed, it has been generally inferred that in these cases it was essential only at the consecration of a new line or dynasty. The titles Messiah and Christ, both meaning anointed, are applied to our Saviour as the anti-typical prophet, priest, and king. Anointing has passed from the Jewish into the Christian economy, and finds a place in the rites of baptism, confirmation, dedication of a church, &c., as these are administered in the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian communions. Its use at coronations symbolises the idea of monarchy as a mediate theocracy. The practice of anointing the sick in the primitive church, and the dying in the Roman Catholic Church, will be found treated in the article Extreme Unction.