QUESTION 30: OF THE EFFECT OF THIS SACRAMENT
We must now consider the effect of this sacrament: under which head
there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether Extreme Unction avails for the remission of sins?
(2) Whether bodily health is an effect of this sacrament?
(3) Whether this sacrament imprints a character?
Article 1: Whether Extreme Unction avails for the remission of sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that Extreme Unction does not avail for the
remission of sins. For when a thing can be attained by one means, no
other is needed. Now repentance is required in the recipient of Extreme
Unction for the remission of his sins. Therefore sins are not remitted by
Objection 2: Further, there are no more than three things in sin, the stain,
the debt of punishment, and the remnants of sin. Now Extreme Unction does
not remit the stain without contrition, and this remits sin even without
Unction; nor does it remit the punishment, for if the recipient recover,
he is still bound to fulfill the satisfaction enjoined; nor does it take
away the remnants of sin, since the dispositions remaining from preceding
acts still remain, as may easily be seen after recovery. Therefore
remission of sins is by no means the effect of Extreme Unction.
Objection 3: Further, remission of sins takes place, not successively, but
instantaneously. On the other hand, Extreme Unction is not done all at
once, since several anointings are required. Therefore the remission of
sins is not its effect.
On the contrary, It is written (James 5:15): "If he be in sins, they
shall be forgiven him."
Further, every sacrament of the New Law confers grace. Now grace effects
the forgiveness of sins. Therefore since Extreme Unction is a sacrament
of the New Law, its effect is the remission of sins.
I answer that, Each sacrament was instituted for the purpose of one
principal effect, though it may, in consequence, produce other effects
besides. And since a sacrament causes what it signifies, the principal
effect of a sacrament must be gathered from its signification. Now this
sacrament is conferred by way of a kind of medicament, even as Baptism is
conferred by way of washing, and the purpose of a medicament is to expel
sickness. Hence the chief object of the institution of this sacrament is
to cure the sickness of sin. Therefore, just as Baptism is a spiritual
regeneration, and Penance, a spiritual resurrection, so Extreme Unction
is a spiritual healing or cure. Now just as a bodily cure presupposes
bodily life in the one who is cured, so does a spiritual cure presuppose
spiritual life. Hence this sacrament is not an antidote to those defects
which deprive man of spiritual life, namely. original and mortal sin, but
is a remedy for such defects as weaken man spiritually, so as to deprive
him of perfect vigor for acts of the life of grace or of glory; which
defects consist in nothing else but a certain weakness and unfitness, the
result in us of actual or original sin. against which weakness man is
strengthened by this sacrament. Since, however, this strength is given by
grace, which is incompatible with sin, it follows that. in consequence,
if it finds any sin, either mortal or venial, it removes it as far as the
guilt is concerned, provided there be no obstacle on the part of the
recipient; just as we have stated to be the case with regard to the
Eucharist and Confirmation (TP, Question , Article ; TP, Question , Article ). Hence,
too, James speaks of the remission of sin as being conditional, for he
says: "If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," viz. as to the
guilt. Because it does not always blot out sin, since it does not always
find any: but it always remits in respect of the aforesaid weakness which
some call the remnants of sin. Some, however, maintain that it is
instituted chiefly as a remedy for venial sin which cannot be cured
perfectly in this lifetime: for which reason the sacrament of the dying
is ordained specially against venial sin. But this does not seem to be
true, since Penance also blots out venial sins sufficiently during this
life as to their guilt, and that we cannot avoid them after doing
penance, does not cancel the effect of the previous penance; moreover
this is part of the weakness mentioned above.
Consequently we must say that the principal effect of this sacrament is
the remission of sin, as to its remnants, and, consequently, even as to
its guilt, if it find it.
Reply to Objection 1: Although the principal effect of a sacrament can be
obtained without actually receiving that sacrament (either without any
sacrament at all, or indirectly by means of some other sacrament), yet it
never can be obtained without the purpose of receiving that sacrament.
And so, since Penance was instituted chiefly against actual sin,
whichever other sacrament may blot out sin indirectly, it does not
exclude the necessity of Penance.
Reply to Objection 2: Extreme Unction remits sin in some way as to those three
things. For, although the stain of sin is not washed out without
contrition, yet this sacrament, by the grace which it bestows, makes the
movement of the free will towards sin to be one of contrition, just as
may occur in the Eucharist and Confirmation. Again it diminishes the debt
of temporal punishment; and this indirectly, in as much as it takes away
weakness, for a strong man bears the same punishment more easily than a
weak man. Hence it does not follow that the measure of satisfaction is
diminished. As to the remnants of sin, they do not mean here those
dispositions which result from acts, and are inchoate habits so to speak,
but a certain spiritual debility in the mind, which debility being
removed, though such like habits or dispositions remain, the mind is not
so easily prone to sin.
Reply to Objection 3: When many actions are ordained to one effect, the last is
formal with respect to all the others that precede, and acts by virtue of
them: wherefore by the last anointing is infused grace which gives the
sacrament its effect.
Article 2: Whether bodily health is an effect of this sacrament?
Objection 1: It would seem that bodily health is not an effect of this
sacrament. For every sacrament is a spiritual remedy. Now a spiritual
remedy is ordained to spiritual health, just as a bodily remedy is
ordained to health of the body. Therefore bodily health is not an effect
of this sacrament.
Objection 2: Further, the sacraments always produce their effect in those who
approach them in the proper dispositions. Now sometimes the recipient of
this sacrament does not receive bodily health, no matter how devoutly he
receives it. Therefore bodily health is not its effect.
Objection 3: Further, the efficacy of this sacrament is notified to us in the
fifth chapter of James. Now healing is ascribed there as the effect, not
of the anointing, but of the prayer, for he says: "The prayer of faith
shall save the sick man." Therefore bodily healing is not an effect of
On the contrary, The operation of the Church is more efficacious since
Christ's Passion than before. Now, before the Passion, those whom the
apostles anointed with oil were healed (Mk. 6:13). Therefore unction has
its effect now in healing bodies.
Further, the sacraments produce their effect by signifying it. Now
Baptism signifies and effects a spiritual washing, through the bodily
washing in which it consists outwardly. Therefore Extreme Unction
signifies and causes a spiritual healing through the bodily healing which
it effects externally.
I answer that, Just as Baptism causes a spiritual cleansing from
spiritual stains by means of a bodily washing, so this sacrament causes
an inward healing by means of an outward sacramental healing: and even as
the baptismal washing has the effect of a bodily washing, since it
effects even a bodily cleansing, so too, Extreme Unction has the effect
of a bodily remedy, namely a healing of the body. But there is a
difference, for as much as the bodily washing causes a bodily cleansing
by a natural property of the bodily element, and consequently always
causes it, whereas Extreme Unction causes a bodily healing, not by a
natural property of the matter, but by the Divine power which works
reasonably. And since reasonable working never produces a secondary
effect, except in so far as it is required for the principal effect, it
follows that a bodily healing does not always ensue from this sacrament,
but only when it is requisite for the spiritual healing: and then it
produces it always, provided there be no obstacle on the part of the
Reply to Objection 1: This objection proves that bodily health is not the
principal effect of this sacrament: and this is true.
Reply to Objection 3: This prayer is the form of this sacrament as stated above
(Question , Articles ,9). Hence, so far as its form is concerned, this sacrament
derives from it its efficacy in healing the body.
Article 3: Whether this sacrament imprints a character?
Objection 1: It would seem that this sacrament imprints a character. For a
character is a distinctive sign. Now just as one who is baptized is
distinguished from one who is not so is one who is anointed, from one who
is not. Therefore, just as Baptism imprints a character so does Extreme
Objection 2: Further, there is an anointing in the sacraments or order and
Confirmation, as there is in this sacrament. But a character is imprinted
in those sacraments. Therefore a character is imprinted in this one also.
Objection 3: Further, every sacrament contains something that is a reality
only, something that is a sacrament only, and something that is both
reality and sacrament. Now nothing in this sacrament can be assigned as
both reality and sacrament except a character. Therefore in this
sacrament also, a character is imprinted.
On the contrary, No sacrament that imprints a character is repeated. But
this sacrament is repeated as we shall state further on (Question ).
Therefore it does not imprint a character.
Further, a sacramental character causes a distinction among those who
are in the present Church. But Extreme Unction is given to one who is
departing from the present Church. Therefore it does not imprint a
I answer that, A character is not imprinted except in those sacraments
whereby man is deputed to some sacred duty. Now this sacrament is for no
other purpose than a remedy, and man is not deputed thereby to do or
receive anything holy. Therefore it does not imprint a character.
Reply to Objection 1: A character marks a distinction of . states with regard to
duties which have to be performed in the Church, a distinction which a
man does not receive by being anointed.
Reply to Objection 2: The unction of orders and Confirmation, is the unction of
consecration whereby a man is deputed to some sacred duty, whereas this
unction is remedial. Hence the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 3: In this sacrament, that which is both reality and sacrament
is not a character, but a certain inward devotion which is a kind of