Hematidrosis: How modern science can help us meditate on the Passion of Christ

Hematidrosis, from the ancient Greek words for blood, haímatos (αἵματος), and sweat, hīdrṓs (ἱδρώς), is the scientific term for sweating blood. Why is there a medical term for this condition? Because, though it is very rare, there are documented cases of this occurring in modern times and not only as recorded in the Bible as happening to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. How does this help us? Wouldn’t this seem rather to diminish the uniqueness of Christ’s Passion? I believe that by looking at three things we know about this condition through modern science, we can better meditate on the Passion of Christ.

Rarity and Extreme Distress

Hematidrosis is an exceedingly rare condition that is caused by extreme distress. Both of these facts can help us to enter into the profound agony that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ took upon Himself the guilt of the world: not just the guilt of one historical rape, murder, or whatever evil we might imagine, but every horrible sin ever committed or that ever will be committed in the future. We sinners who have faced our own guilt at all have tasted the darkness, the pain, and the wretchedness of our sin, at least to some degree. Imagine knowing all of it, and taking it upon yourself. There are varying degrees of hematidrosis, from a lightly red-tinted sweat to dark blood droplets as the most intense. Jesus knew what He was choosing to suffer the next day, and He took upon Himself all the weight of our evil. He is God, yes, but He has taken to Himself a human nature also, which naturally abhors such suffering. He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death”(Mark 14:34), and as is recorded in the Bible, “his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground”(Luke 22:42), indicating the most extreme suffering.

Painful Hypersensitivity

Most notable in my mind is the fact that hematidrosis causes the skin to become painfully hypersensitive. Think about this; meditate on this. Our Infinite Creator, Who has no need of us to be happy, not only created us out of Love, but when we had betrayed Him, He took our nature—so far beneath Himself—and came to suffer with us and to save us. Willingly, the Lamb of God chose to hand Himself over to be mocked and tortured by those He created and Loves: to have his flesh ripped off with whips adorned with nails and bone shards (scourging), thorns driven into his head, and nails put through his sacred hands and feet. Yet, even more astoundingly, He arranged all this so that his body would feel it all to the utmost possible extent, by first experiencing hematidrosis. Our Lord said well before the day arrived, “I AM the good shepherd […] and I lay down my life for my sheep. […] No man takes it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.”(John 10:14-18) Being all-powerful, why did He arrange it in such a way?

What the Saints Have to Say

As with many things, I believe the best answer is given to us by Blessed John Duns Scotus. Here is what he had to say:

Of His own accord, Christ freely arranged His Passion and offered it to the Father for us, and for that reason we are much obliged to Him. Precisely for the fact that man could have been redeemed in some other fashion, but of His own free will, Christ nevertheless chose to redeem us in that manner, we are much obliged to Him: even more than we would be, had it been impossible for us to have been redeemed—of necessity—in some other way.

Therefore, it was (in my belief) in order that we may be gently drawn to love Him that He accomplished our Redemption in this particular way, and because He wanted to bind man in a far greater degree to his God.

[…] And this is becomingness, fittingness, not necessity.[1]

Oh, how it should strike us that the Sacred Heart of our God should want to suffer to the utmost extent possible for love of us and in longing for our love in return! St. Francis of Assisi is known for having cried out with tears, “Love is not loved!” Oh, how true that is, and how terrible! This Holy Week, this day, and every day, let us endeavor to change that. Let us love Love.

Ad Maximam Dei Gloriam per Mariam.

[1] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Lectura III, d. 20, q. un., n. 38 (XXI, 51-52) [C. Solutio Propria]. Original Translation by the author, Stephen Snyder, first published in The Chaplet of St. Francis, ©2012.

Article by Stephen Snyder, 2020. All Rights Reserved.