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Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

What part did Mary’s biology play in the making of the person of Jesus Christ?

Mike Hayes Answers:

Since Jesus has both divine and human natures the church has taught that Jesus is both “Son of God” and “Son of Mary.”  Your question as to how this could be was one that also puzzled Mary as she asks “How can this be since I do not know man?” (Luke 1:34)
The angel’s response tells us a bit of what an answer to your question could be:  “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk 1:35)
However, you have asked a more biological question in which the Catechism of the Catholic Church helps to clarify:

485 The mission of the Holy Spirit is always conjoined and ordered to that of the Son. The Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of Life”, is sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and divinely fecundate it, causing her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own.” (CCC, 485)
The word “fecundate” means to impregnate.  So the best explanation we have lies here that is was the power of the Holy Spirit that makes her pregnant.
That implanting of a divine nature with Mary’s female human egg that starts Mary on the cycle of pregnancy.
I hesitate to say that it was “divine sperm cells” that unite with the egg because that is how we might understand this scientifically in our human experience and indeed this may be how the Holy Spirit was able to impregnate Mary–but we don’t really know that for certain.
This is a miracle, something that confounds science and even goes beyond it into something of a mystery.  This is divinity and humanity in union–which goes beyond our human experience. In short, God enables new life to start by uniting in some way with Mary’s humanity.
Suffice it to say that the power of the Holy Spirit makes Mary pregnant.  There isn’t a partially grown fetus implanted but rather Jesus shares in our human experience in all its wonder from the union of two cells which begin to divide, through birth, into life and into our death and then beyond it.
The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
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  • cathyf

    Jen, it’s really not that mysterious. A Y-chromosome is more or less the remnants of a broken-down X-chromosome, with a few base pairs changed so that it produces male hormone proteins instead of female.

    We don’t know the details of how God accomplished the incarnation (only what he accomplished) so this might or might not be relevant to that issue. But we do have a pretty good understanding that, at the gene level, males are just a few tweaks here and there different from females. Which pretty much matches what Genesis says — male and female in the image and likeness of God.

  • Jen

    What I have always wondered is where the Y-chromosome comes from. I know you will say this is taking things overly “scientifically” – but then the CC has always done that in deciding who to ordain! So my question – on a genetic level – was Jesus actually male if he only had Mary’s DNA?

  • Mike Hayes


    The power of the Holy Spirit creates whatever it has to create in order for Jesus to become Jesus. You’re thinking in scientific manner, which is what we have become accustomed to, but we need to think with the eyes of faith here. This goes beyond mere science to something more transcendent or beyond science. It is mystery and thus cannot be answered by our limited human human ways.

    So again, suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit does what it needs to in order to create Jesus as Jesus.

  • cathyf

    I find it odd that you find this thought so shocking. Jesus tells us that God has numbered every hair on our head. Given how DNA works, if the Spirit “spelled out” Jesus’ body nucleotide by nucleotide it wouldn’t come close to being the most mysterious part of the process.

  • Zeb

    Arg, this is not an answer! Mary accounts for 23 of Jesus chromosomes, but whence the other 23? Couldn’t all be from Mary, or he’d be a girl, and a clone. Did God create them ex nihilo? The most shocking part of that thought is that God chose Jesus’ genes nucleotide by nucleotide – Jesus body was thus half-divinely designed. This question is the most troubling aspect of the virgin birth for me.

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