Family and Science: We are not Autonomous Individuals

“The term “microchimerism” is derived from the fire-breathing Chimera of Greek mythology that was part serpent, part lion, and part goat. A chimera has come to be known as any creature that is a mixture of more than one being.” It looks fierce but that ferocity could be focused for either good or evil.

I came across this article today titled Autonomy and Interconnectedness at Catholic on the scientific field of the study of microchimerism in which mothers were found to have cells of their children running through their blood, their brains and other organs.  Children may also carry cells of their mothers and even older siblings that have crossed the placenta or through breast milk.   This discovery brought to my mind the fact that this seems to give deeper meaning to the virgin birth.  The Catholic Church has long taught that the Blessed Mother was born sinless, having been saved from original sin since her conception in her own mother’s womb.  The saving power of the cross was able to be applied to Mary because God, being outside time and seeing all from beginning to end, could foresee the accomplishment of our salvation in time, while being able to apply that merit to the Mother of Jesus at the time of her conception and saving her from the stain of original sin.  Jesus, being the perfect unity of fully human and fully divine, would have had his own cells cross the placenta to circulate in the body of his Mother and hers in His.  The question has to be asked, “Would these cells of the fully human/fully divine Savior been able to be tolerated in the normal human body, stained by original sin?”  Further, ” Would the human cells of the Blessed Mother been able to be received within the body of Christ if they were carrying the stain of original sin? Could that which contains sin be a part of that which was divine?”  It’s quite the food for thought for those who might doubt the Catholic doctrine on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We also believe that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven.  She is already in her resurrected body, as is Christ, and as we all will be at the end of time.  Could the presence of fetal cells, fetal cells that were the perfect fusion of the humanity and divinity of the Son of Man, been a factor along with her sinlessness in Mary’s assumption?  Of course, this is all speculation but the questions do have merit in that the Catholic Church rather than shying away from science has always pioneered, supported and even participated in research and study.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states

“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.  Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”


Despite the political correctness in this diagram, obviously “Parent 1” is mother and “Parent 2” is father.

This interconnectedness of cells among mothers, children and siblings (and possibly grandmothers) does seem to leave one person out of the equation, the father.  It seems that while a husband can carry his own mother’s cells, he doesn’t carry any cells within him of his children or his wife.  He is biochemically “other” than the other members of his nuclear family.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about God’s transcendence and immanence and how human fatherhood emphasizes God’s transcendence while motherhood emphasizes His immanence.

By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood,62 which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard:63 no one is father as God is Father.

The science of microchimerism seems to support this view in which the body itself speaks of these spiritual realities.  St. Pope John Paul II also speaks of this “otherness” of fatherhood.

In the light of  the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings—not only towards her own child but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man—even with his sharing in parenthood—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother…

The wonderful thing is that husbands/fathers as head deeply desire to share and connect with their wife and children despite this characteristic of being “other.”  They share that sacramental one-flesh union with their wives which results in his children receiving his DNA.  I often wonder if the generally stronger sex drive of the male is a driver that serves to foster his interest in connecting to his wife (and his children in and through her), due to this “otherness” that is not shared biochemically.

Wives/mothers, for their part, seek to make room for and foster the diverse familial relationships as the heart of the family.  They openly and actively welcome and receive the husband/father in cooperation with the sacramental union they share to truly unite the family as one-flesh.   They also often are the keepers and drivers of cultural traditions that serve as vehicles that bind families and communities together.

This, of course, is the ideal we are called to but the effects of original sin run deep and we often fall short.  It takes forgiveness and cooperation with grace to overcome these effects by striving always to attain holiness.

While much is not conclusive yet, this field of microchimerism is certainly one to watch in coming years as the implications, not only from a theological viewpoint but also from a physical viewpoint, comes more into focus.  In the meantime, we can continue to wonder in awe at the thoughts and actions of God that are already so far above our own.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640) The Holy Family with St. Anne , 1630-35



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