AskDefine | Define unction

Dictionary Definition



1 excessive but superficial compliments given with affected charm [syn: smarm, fulsomeness]
2 smug self-serving earnestness [syn: fulsomeness, oiliness, oleaginousness, smarminess, unctuousness]
3 semisolid preparation (usually containing a medicine) applied externally as a remedy or for soothing an irritation [syn: ointment, unguent, balm, salve]
4 anointing as part of a religious ceremony or healing ritual [syn: inunction]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. a religious or ceremonial anointing
  2. a salve or ointment
  3. a balm or something that soothes
  4. a smug, exaggerated use of language; smarminess

Extensive Definition

To anoint is to grease with perfumed oil, milk, water, melted butter or other substances, a process employed ritually by many religions and races. It also means to be in the presence of God. People and things are anointed to symbolize the introduction of a sacramental or divine influence, a holy emanation, spirit or power. It can also be seen as a spiritual mode of ridding persons and things of dangerous influences and diseases, especially of the demons (Persian drug, Greek κηρες, Armenian dev) which are believed to be or cause those diseases.
Unction is another term for anointing. The oil may be called chrism.
The word is known in English since c. 1303, deriving from Old French enoint "smeared on," pp. of enoindre "smear on," itself from Latin inunguere, from in- "on" + unguere "to smear." Originally it only referred to grease or oil smeared on for medicinal purposes; its use in the Coverdale Bible in reference to Christ (cf. The Lord's Anointed, see Chrism) has spiritualized the sense of it.
Because of its "smeared on" root, the word is also used for the unique practice by hedgehogs of coating their quills with a froth when encountering new smells or tastes in their environment.


The indigenous Australians believed that the virtues of one killed could be transferred to survivors if the latter rubbed themselves with his caul-fat. So the Arabs of East Africa anoint themselves with lion's fat in order to gain courage and inspire the animals with awe of themselves. Such rites are often associated with the actual eating of the victim whose virtues are coveted. Human fat is a powerful charm all over the world; for example, as R. Smith points out, after the blood, the fat was peculiarly the vehicle and seat of life. This is why fat of a victim was smeared on a sacred stone, not only in acts of homage paid to it, but in the actual consecration thereof. In such cases the influence of the deity, communicated to the victim, passed with the unguent into the stone. According to some beliefs, the divinity could, by anointing, be transferred into men as well.
Milk or butter made from the milk of the cow, the most sacred of animals, is used for anointing in the Hindu religion. A newly-built house is smeared with it; so are those believed to be suffering from demonic possession, care being taken to smear the latter downwards from head to foot. Anointments are also part of certain Hindu Monarchies' enthronement ritual, when waters from sacred rivers, sandal-wood paste, milk etc can also be used.

Hebrew Bible

Among the Hebrews, the act of anointing was significant in consecration to a holy or sacred use: hence the anointing of the high priest (Bible verse |Exodus|29:29|KJV; Bible verse |Leviticus|4:3|KJV) and of the sacred vessels (Bible verse |Exodus|30:26|KJV).

Medicinal and funerals

Oil was used also for medicinal purposes. It was applied to the sick, and also to wounds (Bible verse |Psalms|109:18|KJV; Bible verse |Isaiah|1:6|KJV).
The expression, "anoint the shield" (Bible verse |Isaiah|21:5|KJV), refers to the custom of rubbing oil on the leather of the shield so as to make it supple and fit for use in war.


It was the custom of the Jews in like manner to anoint themselves with oil, as a means of refreshing or invigorating their bodies (Bible verse |Deuteronomy|28:40|KJV; Bible verse |Ruth|3:3|KJV; Bible verse 2|Samuel|14:2|KJV; Bible verse |Psalms|104:15|KJV, etc.). The Hellenes had similar customs. This custom is continued among the Arabs to the present day.

Priests and kings

In the Hebrew Bible, the High Priest and the king are each sometimes called "the anointed" (Bible verse |Leviticus|4:3-5|KJV, ; ; Bible verse |Psalm|132:10|KJV). Prophets were also anointed (Bible verse 1|Kings|19:16|KJV; Bible verse 1|Chronicles|16:22|KJV; Bible verse |Psalm|105:15|KJV).
Anointing a king was equivalent to crowning him; in fact, in Israel a crown was not required (Bible verse 1|Samuel|16:13|KJV; Bible verse 2|Samuel|2:4|KJV, etc.). Thus David was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel:
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.—Bible verse 1|Samuel|16:13|KJV.

Christian Gospels

The Messiah

Distinct from the Jewish view, Christians believe the "anointed" one referred to in various biblical verses such as Bible verse |Psalm|2:2|KJV and Bible verse |Daniel|9:25-26|KJV is the promised Messiah. According to the Jewish Bible, whenever someone was anointed with the specific holy anointing oil formula and ceremony described in Bible verse |Exodus|30:22-25|KJV, the Spirit of God came upon this person, to qualify him or her for a God-given task. Understanding that Jesus was never anointed in this way, Christians take a spiritual reading of anointed, and believe that Jesus was "anointed" with the Holy Spirit directly. According to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth is this Anointed One, the Messiah (Bible verse |John|1:41|KJV; Bible verse |Acts|9:22|KJV; ; , ), and the Gospels state that he was physically "anointed" (although not in the fashion described in Exodus) by an anonymous figure who is interpreted by some as Mary Magdalene. The word Christ which is now used as though it were a surname is actually a title derived from the Greek Christos roughly meaning 'anointed' (creamy or greased would be more cognate as translations).


Anointing was also an act of hospitality, as Jesus was anointed in the house of the Pharisee (Bible verse |Luke|7:38-46|KJV).


The New Testament records that oil was applied to the sick, and also to wounds Bible verse |Mark|6:13|KJV; Bible verse |James|5:14|KJV).
The bodies of the dead were sometimes anointed (Bible verse |Mark|14:8|KJV; Bible verse |Luke|23:56|KJV).

Christian monarchy

In Christian Europe, the Merovingian monarchy was the first to anoint the king in a coronation ceremony that was designed to epitomize the Catholic Church's conferring a religious sanction of the monarch's divine right to rule. A number of Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian kings and emperors have avoided coronation and anointing.
English and Scottish monarchs in common with the French included anointing in the coronation rituals (sacre in French). The Sovereign of the United Kingdom is the last anointed monarch. For the coronation of King Charles I in 1626 the holy oil was made of a concoction of orange, jasmine, distilled roses, distilled cinnamon, oil of ben, extract of bensoint, ambergris, musk and civet.
However this does not symbolize any subordination to the religious authority, hence it is not usually performed in Catholic monarchies by the pope but usually reserved for the (arch)bishop of a major see (sometimes the site of the whole coronation) in the nation, as is sometime the very act of crowning. Hence its utensils can be part of the regalia, such as in the French kingdom an ampulla for the oil and a spoon to apply it with; in the Norwegian kingdom, an anointing horn (a form fitting the Biblical as well as the Viking tradition) is the traditional vessel.
The French Kings adopted the fleur-de-lis as a baptismal symbol of purity on the conversion of the Frankish King Clovis I to the Christian religion in 493. To further enhance its mystique, a legend eventually sprang up that a vial of oil (cfr. infra the crowning ampulla) descended from Heaven to anoint and sanctify Clovis as King. The thus "anointed" Kings of France later maintained that their authority was directly from God, without the mediation of either the Emperor or the Pope.
Legends claim that even the lily itself appeared at the baptismal ceremony as a gift of blessing in an apparition of the blessed Virgin Mary.

Christian sacramental usage

Early Christian usage

In early Christian times, sick people were anointed for healing to take place:
Bible verse |James|5:14-15|KJV
14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox usage

In Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox usage, anointing is part of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (or, using the Orthodox terminology, the Mystery of Unction). The Orthodox use Unction not only for physical ailments, but for spiritual ailments as well, and the faithful may re-request Unction at will, and it is normal for everyone to receive Unction during Holy Week.
Consecrated oil is also used in confirmation, or, as it is sometimes called (especially in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches), Chrismation, from the Greek word chrisma (χρίσμα), meaning the medium and act of anointing. The Eastern Churches perform the sacrament of Chrismation immediately after the sacrament of Baptism during the same ceremony.

Consecration of the Oil in the Orthodox Churches

Among Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Myron (Μύρον, Holy Oil) for Chrismation (and, prior to the 20th century, for the Anointing of monarchs) is prepared periodically by the Orthodox Patriarchates (such as the Church of Constantinople -- see an announcement and process for preparation, with some sample dates of preparation) and by the various heads of autocephalous churches (such as the Orthodox Church in America -- see photos of the process). The Consecration of the Oil, when performed, occurs during Holy Week, and thereafter the Oil is distributed to the Orthodox Churches within the authority of the administration. The Myron is made of olive oil and a guarded recipe of aromatics (myra) that are infused therein.
At the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the process is under the care of the Archontes Myrepsoi, lay officials of the Patriarchate. Various members of the clergy may also participate in the preparation, but the Consecration itself is always performed by the Patriarch or a bishop deputed by him for that purpose.

Pentecostal churches

As in the early Christian church, anointing with oil is used in Pentecostal churches for healing the sick and also for consecration or ordination of pastors and elders.
The word "anointing" is also frequently used by Pentecostal Christians to refer to the power of God or the Spirit of God residing in a Christian: a usage that occurs from time to time in the Bible (e.g. in Bible verse 1|John|2:20|KJV). A particularly popular expression is "the anointing that breaks the yoke", which is derived from Bible verse |Isaiah|10:27|KJV:
And it shall come to pass on that day, that his burden shall be removed from upon your shoulder, and his yoke from upon your neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of oil.
The NIV translates this passage as, "the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat." The context of this passage refers to the yoke of Sennacherib, and how his oppressive nature is overturned by that of Hezekiah who was said to be as mild as oil.

Biblical metaphor

OBS Anointing is not only used by Pentecostal churches but by many other denominations to describe the work of the Holy Spirit among believers. In so doing they only recognize the spiritual anointing that the Bible speaks of. But you have an anointing from the Holy One Bible verse 1|John|2:20|KJV. But the anointing, which you have received from Him abides in you Bible verse 1|John|2:27|KJV.

Sources and references

unction in German: Salbung
unction in Spanish: Unción
unction in French: Onction
unction in Indonesian: Perminyakan (agama)
unction in Italian: Unzione
unction in Georgian: მირონცხება
unction in Portuguese: Unção
unction in Russian: Елеопомазание
unction in Serbian: Помазање
unction in Swedish: Smörjelse

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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