Thursday, December 14, 2017


Artists and their art communicate in different ways, but the same message, no?

 This morning prior to Mass, my adult acolyte told me he had read the Gospel for Mass and explained to me that John the Baptist was freed from original sin when our Blessed Mother, with Jesus in her womb, visited St. Elizabeth.

This doesn't mean that St. John the Baptist was conceived without original sin, simply born without it by virtue of our Blessed Mother presenting Jesus in her womb to both Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist in her womb.

There is also a tradition that John the Baptist remained sinless throughout his life.

Thus we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. There are only two other nativities the Church celebrates liturgically, our Lord of course, and our Blessed Mother.

However, both the washing away of original sin of St. John the Baptist in the womb of St. Elizaeth and his subsequent sinlessness are matters of doctrine, but not dogma. It would be on the same level as the Immaculate Conception prior to it being raised to a dogma on December 8, 1854.

Is this new to anyone? 

Here is EWTN's take on this in a question and answer form:

St John the Baptist and Original Sin
Question from Tony on 12/29/2004:
I've seen in a recent post here that indirectly refers to St John the Baptist was conceived without original sin (post by Theodore on 12/29/04). I was wondering what is the official teaching and scripture basis on that subject and my Protestant friends think I'm crazy. I don't remember covering that issue in my catechism and I've asked other "experts" and they were not able to give me an answer. Thanks
Answer by Fr. John Echert on 12/29/2004:
St. Luke records the following in his Gospel:
1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, 1:40 and she entered the house of Zechari'ah and greeted Elizabeth. 1:41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 1:42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 1:43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 1:44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.

The Church teaches that it was at this moment that the Baptist was freed from original sin and that he never sinned personally in the course of his life. Specifically, Pope Innocent III (1208 AD, DS 790) wrote: “Iohannemque Baptistam ab eo missum esse sanctum et iustum et in utero matris suae Spiritu Sancto repletum” (“and John the Baptist had been sent from Him [God] holy and righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb of his own mother”). Furthermore, St. Augustine commented that we properly celebrate the birthday of the Baptist in addition to his day of martyrdom, since he came into the world without sin. Hence it is only properly said of Mary that she was conceived free of original sin, as proclaimed in the Immaculate Conception. But the Baptist was granted the privilege of freedom from original sin in the womb which is singular in its own right and by the same grace of Christ, but in anticipation of the crucifixion in which that grace was won for us. ©
This teaching of the Church, rooted in Sacred Scripture, is probably not well known in modern times, even by many pastors and theologians. However, the truth of Tradition and the Bible still stands.


qwikness said...

I wondered about this because if Elizabeth was barren and by special grace was allowed to have a baby. Would that grace free him of Original Sin? However if he was without Original Sin and he died, wouldn't he have been assumed as well? Yet his relics (his head)still exist. So why would he not have been assumed?

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

New info to me.....

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Qwikeness, John the Baptist was conceived with original sin, only cleansed of it when our Blessed Mother brought John and Elizabeth into the presence of Jesus in her womb, thus the "leaping for joy."

He was faithful to his original sin being washed away, but still suffered the disorders of it, including death and decay as we do after our baptism, even if we are incapable of committing sin.

Thus only Mary is conceived with out Original sin.

But all of this concerning John the Baptist is new to me, including his sinlessness--although possible for anyone who is baptized.

Agnes said...

I have heard this before.

Henry said...

Surely, the traditional Catholic belief that John the Baptist was cleansed of sin when he "leapt for joy" in Elizabeth's womb at the approach of Jesus in Mary's womb, is not new to the traditionally worshiping Catholic.

One can only wonder what did they teach you poor fellows in those feckless 1970s/80s seminaries. Anything at all, about Catholicism?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Was not taught this pre or post Vatican II and certainly isn't in the Baltimore Catechism.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Henry - I spent 22 years in Catholic schools, from kindergarten through seminary (1963-1985) and never heard this information.

I would like to be able to read the document of Pope Innocent. St Augustine's comment quoted by Echert seems to be made in passing.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I find it odd that it isn't in the Baltimore Catechism, any version, as the author of the answer to the question seems to place it on the level of a doctrine which is somewhat developed but certainly not infallibly proclaims. Thus I presume a Catholic could choose to believe or not believe it similar to approved Marian apparitions.

But the real oddity is that Limbo for unbaptized babies is found in the Baltimore Catechism and this is more a theological position, not an outright formulated doctrine, and one that Catholics may choose to believe or not.

Marc said...

This isn’t new to me, but I learned of it from the Orthodox priest who catechized me (without the original sin stuff, obviously).

Henry said...

Fr. Kavanaugh,

"I spent 22 years in Catholic schools, from kindergarten through seminary (1963-1985) and never heard this information."

Alas, hardly surprising. Not to a father whose kids (like mine) cumulatively logged a good deal more than 22 years in Catholic schools, kindergarten through college.

Henry said...

Fr. McDonald,

Wouldn't be in the Baltimore Catechism because it's not a truth of the faith no even a common theological position, merely a "pious belief" that's not defined or part of the Church's universal ordinary teaching, but is commonly held and consistent with Catholic faith and practice.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

I'm not clear on what level of authority Fr. Echert gives thus notion.

"This teaching of the Church, rooted in Sacred Scripture, is probably not well known in modern times, even by many pastors and theologians. However, the truth of Tradition and the Bible still stands."

Does he mean it is doctrine when he says, "This teaching of the Church, rooted in Sacred Scripture,..."?

If it's just a "pious belief" then it is not a "teaching of the Church."

An earlier marriage for St. Joseph is a "pious belief" held by many, but not a teaching or doctrine.

Henry - I suspect I did not hear it in 22 years of Catholic schooling because it is only a pious belief and, as such, not something that would necessarily be presented in any religion class.

Gene said...

Completely non-Biblical, but liberties have always been taken. Let us pray that God blesses these liberties and that the Church was led by the Holy Spirit in conjuring them.

Carol H. said...

I hadn't heard this before, but it does make sense. Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit" as the gospel says. Wouldn't this mean that John the Baptist was immersed in holy-water for about 3 months?

Adam Michael said...

Actually, I knew this. I read a lot of old and musty Catholic books.

GenXBen said...

I was not aware that this was official doctrine, but i have certainly heard this as a common belief, or a pious custom.

Joseph Johnson said...

is this another possible example of "prevanient" grace being applied to someone?

Marc said...

It's interesting to me how much Gene's "this is non-Biblical" mirrors Kavanaugh's "this is not a teaching of the Church because it's 'just' a pious belief."

Henry said...

Gene said...Completely non-Biblical, but liberties have always been taken.

"You can take the boy out of the Prots, but you can't take the Prots out of the boy."

At any rate, it sounds like I may be to the only one whose adult memories stretch back to a time when Catholic parish life provided a rich and all-pervading spiritual atmosphere filled with thoroughly Catholic but often non-doctrinal pious beliefs (and even harmless myths).

TJM said...


I have no doubt in your recollection. The Church was far superior then to what it is today. We're now vying to go out of business with the Episcopals

Gene said...

There are a number of things that the Church teaches that are based upon Scripture but are not clearly stated in Scripture. There are also certain doctrines that the Church teaches that are interpretations of Scripture, but not actually found there. As long as we understand and believe that the Church is established by Christ to proclaim His truth and that, therefore, these interpretations of Scripture are true and valid because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, everything is fine. However, once in a while you will find an interpretational stretch. No, Henry, and Marc, you can't get the Calvin completely out of me...and I still like TULIP theology.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Marc, Actually what I said was, "If it's just a "pious belief" then it is not a "teaching of the Church."

Not every "pious belief" is, or should be, or even can be, a matter of doctrine.

I suppose some "pious beliefs" can be (or become) matters of doctrine, but I suspect it is unlikely.

Gene and I take somewhat different paths to arrive at the same point. "Interpretational stretches," of scripture and doctrine, lead to difficulties.

I still wonder if Echert is suggesting this matter is doctrinal.

Gene said...

Dang...Kavanaugh and I are agreeing on something...that is twice now. I'm concerned.

TJM said...


Maybe you are converting Kavanaugh to Catholicism. Keep up the good work!!!