Bloody Sweat

SWEAT, BLOODY. A physical manifestation of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke.22.44). Ancient and modern medicine has documented cases of blood extravasated from the capillaries mingling with and coloring the sweat, under severe stress of emotion. See under Diseases.


BLOODY SWEAT. “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

There has been argument as to whether Luke means the sweat was blood-tinged, or that the drops of sweat were merely very large, like drops of blood. The former would appear more likely. This phenomenon called hematidrosa has been rarely described in medical lit. It occurs as Dr. Le Bec says in “very special conditions: great physical debility, accompanied by violent mental disturbance following on profound emotion or great fear.” (Quoted in Pierre Borlet, The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ [1952], p. 160.)

It is interesting to pause to consider the probable mechanism of the phenomenon. When a person is under stress the body chemical processes are speeded up producing excess heat which is lost via the sweat. The sweat can only reach the sweat glands as fluid passing into them from the blood stream, and so the blood vessels just under the skin around the sweat glands become markedly dilated. In hematidrosa the dilatation of these blood vessels is so intense that blood ruptures into the sweat glands and sweat and blood run intermingled onto the body.

Although “great fear” was not the cause of our Lord’s experience, this explanation does give a glimpse of the intensity of His mental suffering.

Bibliography

P. Borlet, The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1954), 160; see also “La Supplice de la Croix,” L’Evangile de la Vie (April, 1925).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Described in Lu 22:44 as a physical accompaniment of our Lord’s agony at Gethsemane (on the passage, which is absent in some manuscripts, see Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek). Many old writers take this to mean that the perspiration dropped in the same manner as clots of blood drop from a wound, regarding the Greek word prefixed as expressing merely a comparison as in Mt 28:3, where leukon hos chion means "white as snow." Cases of actual exudation of blood are described in several of the medieval accounts of stigmatization, and Lefebvre describes the occurrence of something similar in his account of Louise Lateau in 1870. For references to these cases see the article "Stigmatization" in Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition), XXII, 550. It is perhaps in favor of the older interpretation that the word used by Aeschylus for drops of blood is stagon (Agam. 1122) and by Euripides stalagmos, not thromboi. None of the instances given by Tissot (Traite des nerfs, 279), or Schenck (Observ. med., III, 45:5), can be said to be unimpeachable; but as the agony of our Lord was unexampled in human experience, it is conceivable that it may have been attended with physical conditions of a unique nature.

Alex. Macalister

See also

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