This petition strikes through to the very centre and source of evil. We are in it taught to pray for deliverance not from certain temporal consequences of sin, such as sickness, suffering and death, nor merely even from particular forms and manifestations of sin itself, but from him who is the personal author of all evil, Satan. The exact translation of the original Greek would seem to be "Deliver us from the evil one." The writers of the Greek Church so consider it, and S. Chrysostom says "He here calls the devil the wicked one." [Isaac Williams--Sermon x. on the Church Catechism.]
The teaching of this last petition of the Lord's Prayer, as applied to the Sacrament of Unction, would in any case be sufficiently obvious. For as the soul nears its final conflict with Satan, "Deliver us from evil" may well be its last and oft repeated cry. Blessed thought, that in that hour when we are brought face to face with the ultimate power of sin, we are not left alone. A stronger than Satan is with us to deliver us from the evil one. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
But in view of the perversions and misconceptions of the Catholic practice of the anointing of the sick, this petition, taken in its exact, original force, has a very direct and important hearing upon that Sacrament, which it will be helpful to consider.
When our Lord sent forth His disciples by two and two, He gave them, among other powers,, authority to anoint with oil and heal the sick (S. Mark vi, 13). This seems to have prefigured the rite subsequently practiced by the Apostles, and distinctly enjoined by S. James: "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, 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" (S. James v, 14, 15). Now, against the recognition of unction as holding a place in the Sacramental system of the Church, it is urged that the practice here referred to by S. James was the exercise of those miraculous and extraordinary powers of healing, bestowed upon the Apostles and other primitive disciples, and that as these gifts were afterwards withdrawn, there was no reason why the external ceremony to which they were tied should be continued. The answer to this is, that if the argument is good against anointing the sick, it is equally good against Confirmation; since it too was originally accompanied with the conferring of these miraculous powers themselves, as the only visible token that the Gift of the Holy Ghost had been received. If unction had fulfilled the purpose of its institution when it ceased to be accompanied with miraculous results, why not say the same of Confirmation? But as a matter of fact the objection confounds with the miraculous powers of healing, which were doubtless still exercised in the Church, a rite which could only be administered by the Priesthood. The miraculous gifts of healing were by no means confined to the clergy, nor it would seem was their exercise tied to the form of anointing with oil. [S. Mark xvi, 18.] If S. James had only these in mind, why should he be careful to refer the sick man to the elders of the Church, that is the Priesthood, and not rather to any one, Presbyter or layman, who possessed the miraculous power?
But such a misconception could only arise from losing sight of the ultimate purpose for which all spiritual gifts are bestowed, and of that purpose we are plainly reminded as often as we say in the last petition of the Lord's prayer: "Deliver us from the evil one."
We are in the habit of thinking of sickness and death independently of their relation to sin; but this is not the way in which they are presented to us in Holy Scripture. All disease whether bodily, mental or spiritual is traced back to its one source, sin, and to the author of sin, the evil one. Our Lord, in His miracles of healing, ever looks beneath the bodily affliction to the disease of the soul, where Satan, as a strong man armed, is keeping his house. The man sick of the palsy is brought in, and laid at our Lord's feet; but our Lord's eye does not rest upon the bodily infirmity; it pierces through to the soul, and He says: "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." In the woman who was bowed together with a spirit of infirmity, our Lord sees one "whom Satan hath bound;" and He applies, we may be sure, to her soul as well as to her body, the words: "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity." To the man born blind He restores his sight, but not without the warning, pointing to a spiritual restoration: "Sin no more." While then we find our Lord and His disciples performing miracles of healing on men's bodies, let us not forget that the end for which such powers were exercised was not in the miracles themselves. It was for no such temporal purpose that the Lord of Glory came into the world to suffer and to die, nor was it for this that He left elders in His Church to continue His Ministry among men. Rather "for this cause was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil."
True, we may not presume to limit the efficacy of the Sacraments to any one part of man's nature, seeing that in his entire nature he has been brought under the bondage of sin: yet this we know, that when no more can be done for the body, the soul of the sick one stands in special need of spiritual support and comfort, as it enters its final conflict with that evil one from whom in this petition we pray to be delivered.
But while this petition thus rebukes the neglect of the Sacrament of Unction, it has its application also to those strange perversions of it for which such neglect is in a great measure responsible. The root error of so called "Christian science," "Faith cures" and similar perversions, which are so common in our time, is in their misconception of the mystery of suffering. Sickness and death, which are penalties of sin, are taken as if they were in themselves inherently evil; deliverance from them is insisted on, as if it were deliverance from the evil one, and is even made a test of faith itself. The blessed truth that sickness and death have, by the Cross of Christ, been plucked out of the hands of Satan, and turned, as his own weapons, against himself, does not enter into their philosophy. It is the same error which the Book of Job seems to have been written expressly to rebuke. In that Book we are left in no doubt either as to the source, or as to the occasion of Job's affliction. Satan afflicted him; and Job's continuing to suffer, so far from being due to a want of faith, was precisely because his faith was great. God can challenge Satan and say: "Hast them considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?" The challenge is accepted and Job begins to suffer, for God had said to Satan, "Behold he is in thine hand." But Job might have continued in a whole skin, as well as in the full enjoyment of his possessions, had he been willing to make good the boast of Satan by cursing God to His face. Power over the body may indeed be exercised by the evil one, as it was in the. case of Job, and again in the case of Job's great Antitype, our Blessed Lord Himself, Who in the humiliation of His Temptation submitted Himself to be bodily transported from place to place by the power of the devil. But Satan can have no power over the soul, except by a free consent of the will to sin, and it is this consent that he seeks at any cost to gain. Power over the bodies of men will profit him little without power over the soul, and glad would he be at any moment to exchange the former for the latter.
When we pray, "Deliver us from evil," we are praying for no merely temporal release from Satan, but from his power over the soul. And so it is in the Sacrament of Unction. It is no purpose of that Sacrament to insist upon physical recovery for the sick man, nor even chiefly to desire it. Rather its purpose is by a distinct and authoritative act of God's appointed ministry, "the elders of the Church," to submit body and soul to His will. If it be for His glory He can indeed restore the sick to health, and so long as this condition is kept in mind, such an answer may be rightly sought in the prayer of faith. But surely the prayer of faith is not the less answered if, the sick man's infirmity increasing, the outward man decaying, he is strengthened so much the more continually in the inner man. Shall we not rather say that that prayer has here its best, because its complete, answer, in final deliverance from the evil one? For the Incarnate Son of God came not into the world to abolish temporal death, but that tasting it Himself He might rob it of its terror, encourage us as we pay the penalty of sin, and change that penalty into a blessing by making death our deliverance forever from the power of Satan. Surely this must comfort us in our last hour if it be ours to receive this holy anointing. The oil, the fruit of the olive, shall be to us the token of His final victory over the evil one, when He encountered him beneath the olive shades of Gethsemane; the prayer of faith shall be no other than His, when in His agony He submitted His human will, shrinking from death, to the will of the Eternal Father; and the answer to that prayer shall also be ours, as with souls cleansed from the last vestiges of sin, we are calm and strong in Him Who rose from His knees to meet and to vanquish forever the power of darkness.