Symbolism of the Head Anointing and Face Washing by the Fasting Christian (Mt 6:17) in Patristic Exegesis


In ancient commentators we find some reflection on the recommendation to anoint faces and to wash one’s head during fasting (Matthew 6:17). By adhering to the essence of this message, and thus the evangelical call to humbleness and lack of ostentation in fasting, the Fathers consider the necessity of public fasting in some specific cases. Cassiodorus links fasting for show with the attitude of the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), who had no oil for their lamps, meaning they had no attention for the Lord because they did their good deeds only to flatter others. To our authors, face washing in Matthew6:17 stands for honesty of conscience, and above all, moral purity. Head anointing, in turn, expresses the joy of the inner man who fasts for the sake of God. The Fathers see a link between this anointing and the "oil of gladness" mentioned in Psalms 45 (44):8, with which God anoints His chosen one. The joy of fasting is also derived from the many spiritual benefits that the fasting brings. Anointing with oil had a rich meaning in the biblical and ancient world, taken over by our authors. This is a participation in the mystery of Christ as the Anointed One, High Priest and Head of the Mystical Body. While face washing denotes getting rid of evil, in some writers head anointing symbolizes good deeds and, above all, works of mercy. The association with an athlete getting anointed before the fight implies seeing fasting as a fight. The pleasant scent of oil, in turn, indicates the apostolic nature of Christian mortification, which brings others closer to the faith and urges them to follow suit.


patristic exegesis; fasting; head anointing; face washing

Aëtius Amidenus, Iatricorum liber XII, 68, red. G. A. Kostomiris, Paris 1892, 7-131.
Ambrosius Mediolanensis, De Helia et ieiunio, red. C. Schenkl, CSEL 36/2, 411-465, Wien 1897; tł. P. Jędrzejowski, Św. Ambroży z Mediolanu, O Eliaszu i poście, VoxP 34-35 (1998) 471-500.
Augustinus Hipponensis, De diversis quaestionibus, PL 40, 11-100.
Augustyn Hipponensis, De sermone Domini in monte, red. A. Mutzenbecher, CCL 35, Turnhout 1967; tł. C. Ryznar, J. Sulowski: Św. Augustyn, O kazaniu Pana na Górze, PSP 48, 21-130, Warszawa 1989.
Basilius Caesariensis, Asceticon magnum, PG 31, 901-1305.
Basilius Caesariensis, De ieiunio: homilia I et II, PG 31, 164-184, 185-197; tł. M. Przyszychowska: Św. Bazyli Wielki, Mowy o poście, w: Post jako praktyka duchowa. Ojcowie Kościoła o poście. Przekład zbiorowy. Wstęp, wybór i oprac. L. Nieścior OMI, Kraków 2019, 55-73.
Basilius Caesariensis, In Gordium martyrem, PG 31, 489-508.
Caesarius Arelatensis, Sermones, red. G. Morin, CCL 103-104, Turnhout 1953.
Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum, red. M. Adriaen, CCL 97-98, Turnhout 1958.
Chromatius Aquileiensis, Sermones, red. J. Lemarié, CCL 9A, 3-182, Turnhout 1974; tł. S. Ryznar: Św. Chromacjusz z Akwilei, Kazania i homilie, PSP 49, Warszawa 1990.
Eusebius Caesariensis, Commentarius in Isaiam, PG 24, 89-526.
Eusebius Caesariensis, Commentarius in Isaiam, red. J. Ziegler, Eusebius Werke, 9, Berlin 1975.
Gregorius Palamas, Homiliae, red. P. K. Chrestou, Tesaloniki 1985.
Hieronymus Stridonensis, Commentarii in Evangelium Matthaei, red. D. Hurst, M. Adriaen, CCL 117, Turnhout 1969; tł. J. Korczak: Św. Hieronim, Komentarz do Ewangelii wg św. Mateusza, ŹMT 46, Kraków 2008.
Hieronymus Stridonensis, Commentarii in prophetas minores, red. M. Adriaen, CCL 76-76A, Turnhout 1969-1970.
Hieronymus Stridonensis, Commentarius in Ecclesiasten, red. M. Adriaen, CCL 72, 249-361, Turnhout 1959.
Hilarius Pictaviensis, Commentarius in Matthaeum, PL 9, 917-1078; tł. E. Stanula: Św. Hilary z Poitiers, Komentarz do Ewangelii wg św. Mateusza, PSP 63, 43-200, Kraków 2002.
Hilarius Pictaviensis, Tractatus super Psalmos, red. A. Zingerle, CSEL 22, Wien 1891.
Hippiatrica. Additamenta Londinensia ad hippiatrica Cantabrigiensia, red. K. Hoppe, E. Oder, Leipzig 1927 (repr. 1971), Corpus hippiatricorum Graecorum, 2, 253-271.
Joannes Chrysostomus (?), In mediam hebdomadam ieiuniorum, PG 59, 701-704.
Joannes Chrysostomus, Ad populum Antiochenum homiliae 1-21, PG 49, 15-222.
Joannes Chrysostomus, Expositiones in Psalmos, PG 55, 39-498.
Joannes Chrysostomus, In Matthaeum homiliae 1-90, PG 57, 13-472; 58, 471-794, tł. J. Krystyniacki, A. Baron: Homilie na Ewangelię według św. Mateusza, Kraków 2000, ŹMT 18 [cz. 1: hom. 1-40].
Origenes, Homiliae in Leviticum, red. W. A. Baehrens, Origenes Werke, 6, Leipzig 1920, 332-334, 395, 402-407, 409-416; tł. S. Kalinkowski: Orygenes,Homilie o Księdze Kapłańskiej, PSP 31/2, Warszawa 1984.
Origenes, Homiliae in Psalmos, red. L. Perrone [i in.], Origenes Werke, 13, Berlin [i in.] 2015.
Origenes (?), Selecta in Psalmos (fragmenta e catenis), PG 12, 1053-1320, 1368-1369, 1388-1389, 1409-1685.
Petrus Chrysologus, Collectio sermonum, PL 52, 183-666; tł. M. Przyszychowska: Św. Piotr Chryzolog, Mowy VII-IX, w: Post jako praktyka duchowa, 91-101.
Photius, Commentarii in Matthaeum (in catenis), red. J. Reuss, Matthäus-Kommentare aus der griechischen Kirche, Berlin 1957, 270-337.
Photius, Epistulae, red. B. Laourdas i L. G. Westerink, Photii patriarchae Constantinopolitani Epistulae et Amphilochia, 1-6. 2, Leipzig 1983-1988.
Pseudo-Joannes Chrysostomus, De ieiunio, sermones I-VII, PG 60, 711-724; tł. M. Przyszchowska, Pseudo-Jan Chryzostom, Mowy o poście, w: Post jako praktyka duchowa, 111-133.
Levine E., The Theology of Fast Day Cosmetics (Mt. 6:16-18), „Journal of Ritual Studies” 13/1 (1999) 1-6.
Ryken L., Wilhoit J. C., Longman T., Słownik Symboliki Biblijnej, tł. Z. Kościuk, Warszawa 1998, 649.
Żywica Z., Post z „umytą i namaszczoną twarzą” (Mt 6, 16-18), „Warmińskie Wiadomości Diecezjalne” 2006, nr 84, 75-78.

Published : 2020-06-15

Nieścior, L. (2020). Symbolism of the Head Anointing and Face Washing by the Fasting Christian (Mt 6:17) in Patristic Exegesis. Vox Patrum, 74, 29-48.

Leon Nieścior
The Cardinal Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland  Poland