The holocaust was to begin, in fact, at Gethsemani. Jesus, having given to His own His Body to eat and His Blood to drink, leads them by night to that grove of olives where they were in the habit of going. He allows them to rest at the entrance, taking with Him a little further His three intimate friends, from whom He separates Himself about a stone's throw, in order to prepare Himself in prayer. He knows that His hour is come. He has Himself sent on the traitor of Carioth: quod facis, fac citius. He is eager to be finished with it, and it is His will. But as He has assumed, by incarnating Himself, this form of a slave which is our humanity, the latter rebels, and there is all the tragedy of the struggle between His will and human nature. Cœpit pavere et tœdere.
This cup which He must drink contains two bitternesses: first, the sins of men which He must take on Himself, on Him the Just One, in order to ransom His brothers, and this was probably the worst: an ordeal that we cannot imagine, because it is the saints amongst us who feel most keenly their worthlessness and their baseness. We shall perhaps better understand His anticipation. The experience beforehand of the physical tortures, which He already suffers in thought; nevertheless, we have only experienced the retrospective shudder at those sufferings which are passed. It is inexpressible. Pater, si vis, transfer calicem istud a me: verumtamen non mea voluntas sed tua fiat. It is His Humanity speaking . . . and which submits, for His Divinity knows what it wills from all eternity; the Man is caught in a blind alley. His three faithful friends are asleep, proe tristitia, as St. Luke says. Poor men !
The struggle is terrible; an angel comes to strengthen Him, but at the same time, so it seems, to receive His acceptance. Et factus in agonia, prolixius orabat. Et factus est sudor ejus sicut guttœ sanguinis decurrentis in terram. It is the sweat of blood which certain rationalist exegetists, scenting some miracle, have treated as symbolical. It is strange to note what nonsense these modern materialists can talk in regard to scientific matters. Let us remember that the only evangelist to record the fact was a physician. And our venerated colleague, Luke, medicus carissimus, does so with the precision and conciseness of a good clinician. Hæmatidrosa is a very rare phenomenon, but has been well described. It is produced, as Dr. Le Bec has written, in ‘very special conditions: great physical debility accompanied by violent mental disturbance, following on profound emotion or great fear’. (Et cœpit pavere et tœdere.) Dread and horror are here at their maximum, and so is mental disturbance This is what St. Luke means by agonia, which in Greek signifies a combination of struggle and anxiety. ‘And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.’
How can one explain this? There is an intense vasolidation of the subcutaneous capillaries, which burst on contact with the millions of sudoripary glands. The blood mingles with the sweat, and it is this mixture which forms into beads and flows over the whole body, in a sufficient quantity to fall to the ground. Note that this microscopic hæmorrhage is produced all over the skin, which thus already suffers a general injury, and becomes sore and tender while awaiting the blows to come.
Dr Pierre Barbet ~ 'The Corporal Passion' from 'A Doctor at Calvary'