Saint John the Baptist and Original Sin

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

Assuming that the Annunciation and the Incarnation took place about the vernal equinox, Mary left Nazareth at the end of March and went over the mountains to Hebron, south of Jerusalem, to wait upon her cousin Elizabeth, because her presence and much more the presence of the Divine Child in her womb, according to the will of God, was to be the source of very great graces to the Blessed John, Christ’s Forerunner.

The event is related in Luke 1:39-57. Feeling the presence of his Divine Saviour, John, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped in the womb of his mother; he was then cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God.

Is is this considered official teaching by the Church?

According to Catholic Answers Apologist Jimmy Akin

This is not something that the Catholic Church teaches, but it is what may be called a pious and probable belief among Catholics.

Mr. Akin goes on to discuss why the teaching is probable, and how it differs from Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

But, as Mr. Akin confirms, it is not a de Fide (of the Faith) teaching of the Church, and is therefore open to theological speculation.

How is it not Church teaching? This seems to be the common answer…but why? The faith isn’t limited only to defined dogmas. It seems to me that Tradition, the liturgy, and the saints are far, far more consistent on this point (that St. John was free of original sin) than they are on a whole score of other issues we consider doctrine.

  1. As Jimmy points out it would seem most illogical for someone to be both deprived of sanctifying grace and filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time. That St. John was filled with the Holy Spirit even in the womb is beyond dispute as Scripture states it clearly.
  2. The Church has celebrated the birth of St. John since the earliest times. Do we not accept the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi? If since the earliest times the Church has celebrated St. John, in Her solemn liturgy, as a saint even at birth, how can that be open to dispute?

I’m not disputing your main point by the scripture clearly says it was Elizabeth who was filled with the Holy Spirit, not John necessarily

Yes, you are correct in all points. There are some on this forum however who will only believe what is taught by the Extraordinary Magisterium, while questioning the Ordinary Magisterium (or at least considering it open to dispute.) It is a common error today caused by a faulty understanding of Church teaching and infallibility. :shrug:

I was always taught that the Baptist was, like Jesus and Mary, born without Original Sin, though unlike Jesus and Mary, he was conceived with it. I’ve never really considered what implications this has for our Faith, though. Perhaps it would be worth while to consider it. Surely, it fits with St. John’s mission as a baptist, being the first to receive baptism of a new kind: baptism by the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, it may be more theologically fitting to have Jesus baptised by one such as John, who was free from sin, having already received baptism from Our Lord in the womb, rather than from someone who was still in sin.

Moreover, it is also a demonstration of Mary as the dispenser of grace. For, it was upon hearing Mary’s voice that the babe leaped for joy. Thus, the grace that Elizabeth and John received was transmitted through her.

I have wondered why this passage isn’t cited more often in support of infant baptisms.

Very good points! :thumbsup:

Well stated. All of my theology professors who were priests said this is true.
But many people have never heard it.

Elsewhere it makes it clear that St. John was filled with the Spirit even in the womb. There is no ambiguity.
For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15)

Exactly. I have the same issue with those who, very passionately (for whatever reason), insist that the Church has no position on the death of Our Lady. For the first 1700 years or so every authority agreed that Our Lady first died (Her Dormition), then shared in the resurrection of Her Son and was taken up into heaven body and soul. This tradition is clearly reflected in the iconography at St. Mary’s Major, the most important Marian church in the Catholic world, in the liturgy, and even in the teachings of Pope Pius XII (despite the fact that he didn’t include it in the dogmatic pronouncement itself).
Faith = more than dogma.

I’ve never heard this. It sounds like an extra-ordinary baptism (as opposed to immaculate conception) which fills with grace and washes away original sin.


Two good references to help the OP:

A papal reference:

[size=2]Then St. John the Baptist, by a singular privilege, is sanctified in his mother’s womb and favored with special graces that he might prepare the way of the Lord; and this comes to pass by the greeting of Mary who had been inspired to visit her cousin. At last the expected of nations comes to light, Christ the Savior. The Virgin bears Him. [/size]

One more from St. Thomas Aquinas - Article 1:

Moreover, it is to be observed that it was granted, by way of privilege, to others, to be sanctified in the womb; for instance, to Jeremias, to whom it was said (Jeremiah 1:5): “Before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee”; and again, to John the Baptist, of whom it is written: “He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb.”

I would think that the good thief on the cross experienced this as well since Jesus said that “this day you will be with me in paradise.”

John the Baptist was given a type of non-formal baptism in the womb. So he was freed from original sin, just as any baptized person, conceived with original sin, is freed. Baptism wipes away all sin, but leaves concupiscence.

Jimmy Akin’s suggestion that perhaps John was freed from original sin and concupiscence is untenable. First, in such a proposal there would be too little difference between that event and the Immaculate Conception (which was a singular grace and privilege). Second, John plainly showed that he still had concupiscence, in that he was not sure if Jesus was the Messiah:

[Matthew 11]
{11:2} Now when John had heard, in prison, about the works of Christ, sending two of his disciples, he said to him,
{11:3} “Are you he who is to come, or should we expect another?”

Concupiscence clouds the mind and heart, making it more difficult to find and adhere to truth.

That quote proves nothing of the kind. John the Baptist was actually trying to help his own disciples by sending them to Jesus with this question. John knew that Jesus was the Messiah at Our Lord’s Baptism, when he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him like a dove. John the Baptist tell us this himself. John 1:32-33

I would also say that Saint Joseph, like Saint John, received a non-formal baptism in the womb. So both men were conceived with original sin, which was wiped away by a form of baptism. And both retained concupiscence. This explains why Joseph would consider divorcing Mary. His heart and mind were clouded by concupiscence, though he did not sin at all.

It’s not on topic, but I don’t see how considering divorcing Mary was proof that St. Joseph’s heart and mind were clouded by concupiscence. :confused:

How would you have seen him react in his set of circumstances? He could not legally accept the child of Mary as his own without breaking the Law, since he was a Just man.

I agree with AmbroseSJ’s assessment here.

We have to also consider the fact that Elizabeth and Mary were close, and Elizabeth understood, inspirationally, who the child Jesus was. Being cousins, and knowing this, it is highly likely that John knew who Jesus was long before Jesus began his public ministry. Therefore, it makes abundant sense that the question was more for John’s disciples, than for John himself.

His judgment that he should divorce her was mistaken, since it was not God’s will. He mistakenly thought it was God’s will. Mary, by comparison, never had a sincere but mistaken conscience. She always did God’s whole will.

The plain meaning of the passage where John sends disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah is that John himself wanted to know the answer to the question. He asked Jesus through his disciples.

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