The End of a Single World: The Sacrament of Extreme Unction in Scholastic Thought
At the end of an individual life came the sacrament of extreme unction—the anointing of the sick. This essay considers its development from the mid-twelfth century to the mid-thirteenth, a key period in the history of both sacramental theology and pastoral care in the Middle Ages. Unction is an example in miniature of how sacramental theory as a whole was changing; and it gives us glimpses of other contemporary preoccupations, such as the idea of purgatory and the theory of sin. Anointing had a long history, with diverse rites in the East and West, along with differing views about precisely what the practice was thought to achieve. Although unction was a minor sacrament in comparison to baptism or the eucharist, it nonetheless posed difficult problems. Indeed, its position as something of an outlier raised questions that were not always easy to fit into the solutions offered by broader sacramental theory, and the solutions offered by Aquinas and Albert the Great, while theologically sophisticated, left behind the more pastoral approach of earlier theologians.