The empirical sciences sometimes seem to conflict with faith, especially when they are seen as the only form of true knowledge. Yet when scientists are motivated by a sincere search for truth and recognize their limitations, the sciences can serve as true handmaids to theology, the highest science. This article considers a couple of examples of how other sciences, especially biology, can shed light on Marian dogmas.
In recent times, some have narrowly defined “science” as referring to empirical or physical science alone. This narrow definition is often associated with scientism, which Pope St. John Paul II described as “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences.” He adds that “it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy.” The classic notion of science is knowledge by means of causes and, as intellectual giants like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure recognized, this includes philosophy and the highest of all sciences, theology.
Theology is the highest of all the sciences because its object of study, God, is the highest and it is based on the most certain form of knowledge one can obtain, divine revelation. Would this not astonish modern-day atheists who think that those who believe in God and rely on faith are neither scientific nor reasonable? Atheists might be even more surprised to learn that one can come to the knowledge of God’s existence and attributes without the benefit of revealed knowledge, i.e., faith, by the use of natural reason alone. At the First Vatican Council (1870), the Church defined de fide that one can come to the knowledge of God’s existence by natural reason alone, unaided by supernatural faith. It is likewise possible, by reason alone, to know that God is eternal, infinite, and supreme. For example, Aristotle, a pagan Greek philosopher, arrived at such knowledge of God without the benefit of divine revelation and called this Supreme Being the “Unmoved Mover.”
Furthermore, it is said that philosophy is the “handmaid of theology.” St. Louis de Montfort once wrote, “What good will it do us to know all the other sciences necessary for salvation if we do not learn the only essential one, the science of our Lord Jesus Christ, the center towards which all the other sciences must tend?” Knowledge is true or it isn’t knowledge at all. Therefore, not only philosophy, but all the sciences, even the physical and empirical sciences, if they are at the service of the truth, are handmaids to theology. Did not Our Lord Himself say, “I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life…”? Also, since Our Lord is the Creator of all and the Author of all beauty, and is Beauty itself, then it can be said that the arts should also be at the service of the divine and find their highest fulfillment when they are at the service of Christ.
We have seen in the past how science — even the empirical and physical sciences — has given support to divine revelation. Those who argue Intelligent Design in the creation of the world have provided compelling arguments against evolution by chance. Unfortunately, some scientists have been driven by ideology rather than a sincere search for the truth. They have sought to justify things like racism, atheism, and gender ideology by making them seem scientific.
We have witnessed advances in scientific research that, when conducted with the intention of seeking the truth, demonstrate how even modern science is at the service of Truth Incarnate. For example, in the science of genetics and its search to map the human genome, scientists have discovered that all humans contain DNA which can be traced back to one woman, called the mitochondrial Eve, and the Y-chromosomes of all men can be traced back to one man, called the Y-chromosome Adam. This disproved the formerly dominant theory that man evolved independently in multiple places.
Even the Marian Dogmas have received the attention of the sciences in recent times. In 2007, doctors at the Mayo Clinic conducted a study of Blessed Pius IX to verify the claims that his epilepsy influenced his mental state when he proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and papal infallibility. After examining the evidence, they rightly concluded that epilepsy is a neurological condition that does not influence the mental abilities of those affected. In other words, Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of either the dogma of the Immaculate Conception or papal infallibility cannot be attributed to delusion or mental illness. These doctors, as true scientists, notably worked within the competence of their field, for which they are to be commended.
Our Lady did have an impact on Blessed Pius IX’s life and the direction of his vocation as she answered his prayer for healing from his affliction. As a young man who was aspiring to a career in the military, the epileptic seizures were an obstacle and he visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto several times with an earnest plea to be cured. Our Lady gave him relief and, instead of continuing in his pursuit of being a soldier for Italy, he was moved to become a soldier for Christ, becoming a priest, bishop, and ultimately pope. These are the ways of Divine Providence, for which God is to be praised.
The sciences, as handmaids of theology, have not only acted in a negative sense, by refuting error and falsehoods, but also in a positive sense, by showing, according to the competence of their field of study, the fittingness or reasonableness of the doctrine. Two such examples in the area of medical science acting in this manner are the discovery of fetal-maternal microchimerism and the development of the female baby’s ovaries during its gestation. Fetal-maternal microchimerism was first discovered in the late nineteenth century by a German scientist, Georg Schmorl. In the late twentieth century, interest was renewed with the Human Genome Project (HGP, 1990-2003) which was initiated to map human DNA. Fetal-maternal microchimerism is the result of the passage of cells between the baby and mother during pregnancy. Scientists have known that there was the passage of fluids between mother and baby, but that was not the whole truth. Researchers during the HGP, while staining the DNA of the test subjects, discovered Y-chromosomes in the DNA of women’s blood. These women were also mothers, and the scientists discovered that the Y-chromosomes, still carried by living cells, were from the sons to whom these mothers had given birth — some as many as forty years earlier. The other medical discovery is that every girl, by seven months after conception, has all her eggs (oocytes) she will ever have for her entire life.
What are the theological implications of these two medical discoveries? The cells of Jesus Christ were not merely contained within His body while He was living within His Blessed Mother’s womb, destined to emerge from her body on that first Christmas. Like all babies living within the body of their mother, some cells of Jesus were distributed throughout the body of His Mother, Mary, probably not only for the rest of her life on earth, but for all eternity. If Mary’s body had some cells of the Incarnate God still within it, could this be one of the reasons for the Assumption of Mary? The objection might be made that since Our Lord’s virginal conception was out of the norm of human birth and miraculous, then fetal-maternal microchimerism may not have taken place. We know that in the birth of her Divine Son Our Lady did not have any labor pains or afterbirth and that Our Lord issued forth from her immaculate womb like light passing through a window. Venerable Mary of Agreda explains these matters regarding the birth of Christ in this way:
[I]n the generation and birth of the Incarnate Word, the arm of the Almighty selected and made use of all that substantially and unavoidably belonged to the natural human generation, so that the Word could truly call Himself conceived and engendered as a true man and born of the substance of His Mother ever Virgin. In regard to the other circumstances, which are not essential, but accidental to generation and nativity, we must disconnect our ideas of Christ Our Lord and the Most Holy Mary, not only from all that are in any way related or consequent upon any sin, original or actual; but also from many others which are not necessary for the essential reality of the generation or birth and which imply some impurity or superfluity, that could in any way lessen or impair the dignity of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and as true Mother of Christ Our Lord.
The late Franciscan theologian, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, in an email regarding fetal-maternal microchimerism commented,
I think we must say that the normal mother-child relationship is above all found in Mary precisely because of its miraculous character, and so this phenomenon also. What these studies show is that the mother-child relationship does not cease at birth but continues in many ways thereafter. So also with Mary and Jesus, indeed more so. Once Mother Mary and Jesus are always related, something which is reflected even at the biological level, even during the Passion and Death of Jesus: witness the sword that pierces her soul. St. Bonaventure says Mary experienced the pains of death without dying. Most people have smiled a bit when I have mentioned this, but in the light of these recent studies, it cannot be said to be a priori impossible. Whether it has something to do with Mary’s preservation incorrupt after death until the Assumption is hard to say. It could have some bearing on this, but is hardly the whole explanation. The invocation “Spiritual Vessel” is often explained in relation to the Holy Spirit and Mary. This relation, basis in Mary for conceiving and bearing Jesus miraculously, could possibly be reflected at the biological level, but here I would be very careful not to introduce explanations that completely naturalize the miraculous.
Fr. Peter’s concern about introducing explanations that might “completely naturalize the miraculous” does not apply to fetal-maternal microchimerism, as it is a natural process and in no way claims to be miraculous nor does it touch upon the miraculous nature of the conception or birth of Christ, but I think one must admit that fetal-maternal microchimerism, this exchange that takes place between mother and child, only adds to the glory and mystery, since Our Lord received His human nature only through the Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We also know Christ desires the greatest glory for His Most Holy Mother and this process in the course of human generation would certainly elevate the state of Our Lady’s motherhood and increase her dignity and glory.
Another doctrine about our Blessed Mother is that, already at conception, she was without sin. Mary, like every girl, had all her eggs by about seven months after conception, certainly before the time of birth. Mary, at that time, had to be without sin because it would be one of her eggs (oocytes) that would be involved in the formation of the body of Jesus at the Incarnation. For Mary, any sanctification after seven months or after birth would be insufficient. This discovery does not directly support the doctrine that her sanctification must be at her conception, but it does give further support against any teaching that her sanctification was after her birth, as some Eastern Orthodox teach. The Immaculate Conception, of course, is more than merely some form of sanctification or “baptism.”
The Immaculate Conception takes on expanded relevance when we consider that cells with Jesus’ DNA would be within the body of Mary for eternity. God is all holy; Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, including cells that came from His human Body, cannot be intermingled with sin. If God were to leave his very cells inside a human being forever, would it not need to be an all-holy immaculate place?
The above examples of science bringing insight into heavenly realities underscore the role that is appropriate for any science if it is true to its purpose in the divine plan. Sadly though, the idolization of science has become something of a new religion. As mentioned, scientism treats the physical and empirical sciences as the only forms of real knowledge. The adherents of scientism believe they can explain all the mysteries of the universe by human reason alone and those that they cannot explain, they dismiss as fantasy and myths. Some take it even further, believing they can recreate themselves, redefining human nature and the human person, even to the point of making themselves “immortal gods,” which is the ultimate goal of “transhumanism,” a logical conclusion of science as a religion.
In opposition to this false view of science and its purpose, Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, wished to point science and scientists in the proper direction as to their role and proper sphere of influence in the grand view of reality. He writes,
Finally, I cannot fail to address a word to scientists, whose research offers an ever greater knowledge of the universe as a whole and the incredibly rich array of its component parts, animate and inanimate, with their complex atomic and molecular structures. So far has science come, especially in this century, that its achievements never cease to amaze us. In expressing my admiration and offering encouragement to these brave pioneers of scientific research, to whom humanity owes so much of its current development, I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person. Scientists are well aware that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of man, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study, to the questions which give access to Mystery.”
With a proper understanding of science as a handmaid in service to “Mystery,” there are moments in history when science and faith intersect in such a stirring way that we as human persons are able to discover this “divine science” that lies beneath “Mystery.”
 Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, September 14, 1998, no. 88.
 Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, ch. 2, no. 1: “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason, for ‘ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made’ (Rm 1:20).” Emphasis mine. The dogmatic definition is in the corresponding canon 1.
 St. Louis de Montfort, The Love of Eternal Wisdom, no. 12.
 Joseph I. Sirven, MD, Joseph P. Drazkowski, MD, and Katherine H. Noe, MD, PhD, “Seizures Among Public Figures: Lessons Learned from the Epilepsy of Pope Pius IX,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 82, no. 12 (December 2007): 1535-1540.
 Paul A. Byrne, M.D., while teaching medical students, thoughtfully investigated human conception, then the Immaculate Conception. Mrs. Sherry Boas then brought to his attention that the Assumption of Mary had to occur since cells from Jesus had, very likely, gone into Mary, His mother, while Jesus lived within Mary. These recent scientific investigations support, and do not contradict, long standing Catholic doctrine.
 Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I, ch. 4, art. 3, q. 8-9
 Venerable Mary of Agreda, The Mystical City of God, trans. by Fiscar Marison, 2:379, par. 477.
 Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio,