Saturday, April 6, 2013

He that came by water and blood - The miraculous deluge

Sunday of Divine Mercy
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. (John 19:33-34)
This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth. (1 John 5:6)
The image of the Divine Mercy recalls the blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us. It was after his death, as his lifeless and inanimate body hung upon the Cross, that his holy side and Sacred Heart were opened by a lance, which released upon the earth the flood of God’s mercy.
We may ask: What really happened when the blood and water flowed? Was it natural or miraculous? Just how much blood and how much water came forth? Finally, we do well to consider what was the significance of this blood and water?

Hypovolemic shock and pericardial effusion
There is some biblical evidence to suggest that our Savior had entered into hypovolemic shock after his scourging. Due to the great brutality of the scourging, in which the sacred flesh of our Savior was so torn that his skeletal muscles, veins, sinews, and even his bowels were exposed, our Lord had literally begun to run out of blood in his body. This extreme blood-loss may well have set him into a state of hypovolemic shock which would be occasioned by low blood pressure.
Those in this state of shock will experience dizziness and fainting (and our Lord fell several times as he carried his Cross) as well as extreme thirst and a desire to drink liquids to replenish all the lost fluids (and Jesus said I thirst).
What is particularly pertinent to our discussion is that hypovolemic shock causes a rapid heart-rate which in turn causes a great deal of fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and the lungs. Thus, some suggest that the “blood and water” which came forth could have been this pericardial effusion of fluid.
If such were the case, the blood and water would be mixed together, flowing out as one. Further, the event would not be a miracle, but would be a medically and scientifically explainable phenomenon – something natural.
The miracle
However, St. John refers to the blood and water coming forth not merely as a natural phenomenon which demonstrates our Lord’s bodily death, but even further (especially in 1 John 5:6), as a proof of our Savior’s divinity. Pericardial effusion and hypovolemic shock do very little to prove the divinity of Jesus, thus the “scientific” and “medical” explanation seems contrary to the plain sense of the holy and inerrant Scriptures.
Furthermore, a pericardial effusion does not pertain to the flowing of blood and water, but rather to the pouring forth of various fluids which had built up around the heart. However, St. John does not say that “fluids” poured forth, but that there came out blood and water.
And we are to understand that the blood and water came out separately, not mingled. For, if they had come forth mingled, then the Beloved would not be able to say blood and water, but only blood or fluid – just as we do not say that there is “wine and water” consecrated at the Mass, but only “wine”, since the water is mingled with the wine.
Now, St. John states that there came out blood and water, and this must needs be miraculous for it was not serum, but rather pure blood and pure water which came forth so as to be distinguished one from the other.
It is well worth noting that our Savior himself confirms this interpretation through his Image of Divine Mercy, in which the blue and the red rays are clearly distinct.
A total gift
It is further worth noting that this miraculous pouring forth of blood and water was total and complete. Indeed, the tradition is that our Savior gave forth in this miraculous deluge all the blood and all the water which was in his body. There is no reason why this could not be accomplished by a miracle.
Further, this total gift of blood and water symbolized the total gift of himself, and also the abundance and infinite depths of divine mercy.
The water, the blood, and the Spirit
In his first Epistle, St. John states that the three – the water, the blood, and the Spirit – give testimony. The Fathers and Doctors recognize a spiritual meaning to these three.
First, the literal sense. The “water” and “blood” refer, of course, to the blood and water which poured forth from his sacred side. The “spirit” may refer to the Holy Spirit, but perhaps more likely refers to the Savior’s breath/spirit which he gave up on the Cross.
Just as it was by a miracle that all the blood and water of our Lord’s body immediately gushed forth with great force and yet remained unmingled and most pure, so too it was by a miraculous last breath that our Savior cried out in a loud voice as he gave forth his spirit. For, indeed, those who are dying (especially those dying upon the Cross, which is a quasi-suffocation) are not naturally able to cry out in such a loud voice.
The spiritual sense follows. The water symbolizes baptism. The blood, the Eucharist. And the spirit, the sacrament of Penance – for it was this spirit which Jesus breathed upon his disciples after his resurrection when he gave them the power to absolve sin.

Oh Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Excellent.

Have you ever read this meditation by a French Doctor?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not Spartacus,

That doctor says, "John truly saw it, and I also, and we would not lie: a broad stream of dark liquid blood, which gushed out on to the soldier, and slowly flowed in dribbles over the chest, coagulating in successive layers. But at the same time, and specially noticeable at the edges, there flows a clear liquid like water. Let us see, the wound is below and to the outside of the nipple (the fifth space), and the blow from below. It is therefore the blood from the right auricle, and the water issued from the pericardium."

Now, the particular line that troubles me is "a clear liquid LIKE water" ... but John says it was water, not a liquid like water.

Further, although I know that the doctor means well, I think that he confuses the issue by rationalizing it...

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,
Peace be to you and grace! Father Vasek here from Crookston. I enjoy this post very much. I was on the site a few days ago and was wondering when the next article would come along.

I am mostly interested in the identification of the Spirit, and the connection of that passage with Penance. I've wondered the meaning of St. John regarding the third (the Spirit) for some time. You've connected it with Easter Sunday night in the upper room. I'd like to see more regarding that from Tradition or anywhere you've seen notes on "the Spirit" in this regard.

I'm particularly interested, to follow that separate topic, Easter Sunday night, a little more. I've read the Catena Aurea and the Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers this week in preparation for Holy Mass and I'm very interested to study more about that Easter eve.

Thanks for this post and I'm interested in links or thoughts regarding Penance and the Spirit.

I've typically said: Blood: Eucharist
Water: Baptism
Spirit: Holy Spirit (without reference to any particular moment, since I haven't become settled on that.)

Grace and Peace,
Father Craig Vasek

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Oh, I agree there is trouble with what he wrote to the extent that he wrote it as a physician but because he is a Doctor he treats of the crime of Deicide in a dramatic way that can help the penitent (and who isn't one on Good Friday?) try and imagine the horrific pain his sins caused his Lord and Saviour to undergo; that is, his examination of the wounds and pains of Jesus helps me to weep and wail over my sins - and that is the very least I ought do on Good Friday.

And, this is a shorter version of, A Doctor at Calvary which is quite a good book.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Not Spartacus,
Yes, I agree that his dramatic description of the Passion is very helpful in many respects! +

@Fr Vasek,
Peace and good to you! I will look for more ... try the commentaries of Fr Cornelius a' Lapide -- his Gospel commentaries are available in print from Loreto Press (, and several of his New Testament commentaries are online here -

Gaudium said...

The Dialogue dictated by St. Catherine of Siena approximately in 1377-1378 emphasizes Christ showed by this flowing of blood and water that He loved us more than it was possible to show with finite pain (Dialog of Catherine of Siena, A Treatise of Prayer, Chapter V):

My love was infinite, how much more love I had, I wished you to see the secret of the Heart, showing it to you open, so that you might see how much more I loved than I could show you by finite pain.

Nishant said...

It also refers to the threefold baptism (water, blood and spirit) according to St. Catherine.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ryan, I have been thinking about you and praying for you. Dropped by last week and saw you hadn't posted in some time. Glad to see the two recent posts.

Hope you are well, and please know that you have a friend in a nearby state who daily commends you to Our Lady~

Pray for me too, please.


Fr. Linus Patem said...

Dear Father, What I have always known prior to reading your comment is that the flow of blood and water signify Christ's gift of the Sacraments in general to the Church. But I think your beautiful explanation which links this act to the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Penance specifically is more to the point and worth taking to heart.

Unknown said...

Great post; very informative!

Anonymous said...

A new perspective on the study of 1 John 5:1-12 (key verse 6) with Hebrews (key chapters 7-9)

When John writes that Jesus Christ “came by water and blood” (1 John 5:6a), he is using “water and blood” as a synonym for covenant. As explained in Hebrews 9:16-22, it takes blood and water, together, to bring a will/covenant into effect – the blood represents the death of something or someone. If the covenant cannot come into effect nor has any value without blood and water then, “water and blood” is synonymous with covenant. An inspired John had just found a unique way of saying, “covenant”! Thus, what John means is, this one, Jesus Christ, came by covenant—the new covenant God had made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, to forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more (Heb. 8:8-12).

Not only did Jesus come by covenant, He was the sacrificial lamb of the very covenant that had brought Him to earth—to take away sin from both Jew and Gentile. John declared, when he saw Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29a: NIV). Jesus is also the mediator or High Priest who ratified the covenant (Heb. 7-8). He brought it into effect through His own body as blood and water flowed from His pierced side on Calvary’s cross (John 19:34).

God, who is faithful, has not left anything undone; He has kept His promise to forgive wickedness and sins. He gave us a Savior and High Priest, Jesus, His Son, our eternal intercessor (Heb. 7:24-25). Messiah!!

OmaW said...

Thank You for helping me understand the piercing of Our Lord's side in such a beautiful way!

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