Chrism (from χρίσμα, oil, unction), consecrated oil, used in the Roman and Eastern churches in the rites of baptism, confirmation, ordination; and extreme unction.
1. Origin of the Usage. — In the N.T. the word is used metaphorically for the grace of the Spirit; e.g. 1Jo 2:20, Ye have an unction (χρίσμα) from the Holy One. The actual use of oil in Christian rites is ascribed by Basil (and some Romanist writers follow him) to the apostles, but there is no foundation for this. It is probable that the name Christian (anointed) itself gave rise, at an early period, to the anointing of heathens before or at their baptism. Unction is mentioned by Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the Apostolical Constitutions; and in the fourth century it seems to be found in general use throughout the Church. From Tertullian's time (A.D. 220) onward we find mention of a double anointing at baptism, one before, the other after. The latter is called, by way of distinction, χρίσμα. The first (ἔλαιον) was preparatory, and took place immediately after exorcism and the signature of the cross. Of the design of chrism, Cyril of Jerusalem (Cateches. Mystag. 2) says, "Men were anointed from head to foot with this consecrated oil, and this made them partakers of the true olive-tree, Jesus Christ. For they, being cut out of a wild olive-tree, and engrafted into a good olive-tree, were made partakers of the fatness of the good olive- tree." Ambrose (De Sacrament. lib. 1, 100:2) compares it to the anointing of the wrestlers before the combat: "Thou camest to the font and wast anointed as a champion of Christ, to fight the fight of this world." A distinction between the two anointings is made. " Men were first anointed with the ancient oil, that they may be Christ's; that is, the anointed of God; but they were anointed with the precious ointment after baptism in remembrance of him who reputed the anointing of himself with ointment to be his burial" (Justin Mart. Respons. ad Orthodox. qu. 137). The Apostol. Constitutions make the same distinction (bk. 7, ch. 22). Chrysostom says, "Every person, before he was baptized, was anointed as wrestlers entering the field; and this not as the high-priest was anointed of old, only on the head, or right hand, or ear, but all over his body, because he came not only to be taught, but to exercise himself in a fight or combat" (Hom. 6 in Coloss.).
2. In the Roman and Greek Churches. —
(1) At baptism the catechumen is anointed with "holy oil" on the breast and between the shoulders, by the priest, with the sign of the cross; after the baptism, the chrism is applied to the crown of the head, that the person baptized may know "that he is called a Christian from Christ, as Christ is so called from chrism" (Catechism of Trent, p. 135, 16, Bait. ed.).
(2) In confirmation, the chrism (made of olive oil and balsam, and consecrated by the bishop) constitutes the matter of the sacrament, a doctrine resting ultimately upon the forged decretals (q.v.), and is applied to the forehead of the person confirmed (Catechism of Trent, p. 141 sq.).
(3) In extreme unction, olive oil alone can be used (without balsam), and it is applied to the organs of the five senses, and also to the loins and feet.
The Greek Church agrees with the Roman as to the spiritual value of chrism, but there are some differences of usage. Both require that the chrism shall be consecrated; but every bishop has the right to consecrate it in the Roman Church, while the Greek confines this power to the patriarchs. The Greek Church, however, uses a chrism compounded of some forty ingredients, besides oil (see list of them in Siegel, 1:397). SEE CONFIRMATION; SEE EXTREME UNCTION.
In the Protestant churches chrism is not used. — Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 11, ch. 9, 10; Siegel, Alterthümer, 1:396 sq.; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, bk. 2, ch. 2, 3; Burnet, On the Articles, art. 25.