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Heretical sect founded in A.D. 144 at Rome by Marcion and continuing in the West for 300 years, but in the East some centuries longer, especially outside the Byzantine Empire. They rejected the writings of the Old Testament and taught that Christ was not the Son of the God of the Jews, but the Son of the good God, who was different from the God of the Ancient Covenant. They anticipated the more consistent dualism of Manichaeism and were finally absorbed by it. As they arose in the very infancy of Christianity and adopted from the beginning a strong ecclesiastical organization, parallel to that of the Catholic Church, they were perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known. The subject will be treated under the following heads:
I. Life of Marcion;
II. Doctrine and Discipline;
IV. Mutilation of the New Testament;
V. Anti-Marcionite Writers.
Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus, born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. He is described as nautes, nauclerus, a ship owner, by Rhodon and Tertullian, who wrote about a generation after his death. Epiphanius (Haeres., XLII, ii) relates that Marcion in his youth professed to lead a life of chastity and asceticism, but, in spite of his professions, fell into sin with a young maiden. In consequence his father, the bishop, cast him out of the Church. He besought his father for reconciliation, i.e. to be admitted to ecclesiastical penance, but the bishop stood firm in his refusal. Not being able to bear with the laughter and contempt of his fellow townsmen, he secretly left Sinope and traveled to Rome. The story of Marcion's sin is rejected by many modern scholars (e.g. G. Krüger) as a piece of malicious gossip of which they say Epiphanius was fond; others see in the young maiden but a metaphor for the Church, the then young bride of Christ, whom Marcion violated by his heresy, though he made great professions of bodily chastity and austerity. No accusations of impurity are brought against Marcion by earlier Church writers, and Marcion's austerity seems acknowledged as a fact. Irenaeus states that Marcion flourished under Pope Anicetus (c. 155-166) [invaluit sub Aniceto]. Though this period may mark Marcion's greatest success in Rome, it is certain that he arrived there earlier, I. c. A.D. 140 after the death of Hyginus, who died that year and apparently before the accession of Pius I. Epiphanius says that Marcion sought admittance into the Roman Church but was refused. The reason given was that they could not admit one who had been expelled by his own bishop without previous communication with that authority. The story has likewise been pointed out as extremely unlikely, implying, as it does, that the great Roman Church professed itself incompetent to override the decision of a local bishop in Pontus. It must be borne in mind, however, that Marcion arrived at Rome sede vacante, "after the death of Hyginus", and that such an answer sounds natural enough on the lips of presbyters as yet without a bishop.
Moreover, it is obvious that Marcion was already a consecrated bishop. A layman could not have disputed on Scripture with the presbyters as he did, nor have threatened shortly after his arrival: "I will divide your Church and cause within her a division, which will last forever", as Marcion is said to have done; a layman could not have founded a vast and worldwide institution, of which the main characteristic was that it was episcopalian; a layman would not have been proudly referred to for centuries by his disciples as their first bishop, a claim not disputed by any of their adversaries, though many and extensive works were written against them; a layman would not have been permanently cast out of the Church without hope of reconciliation by his own father, notwithstanding his entreaties, for a sin of fornication, nor thereafter have become an object of laughter to his heathen fellow townsmen, if we accept the story of Epiphanius. A layman would not have been disappointed that he was not made bishop shortly after his arrival in a city whose see was vacant, as Marcion is said to have been on his arrival at Rome after the death of Hyginus.
This story has been held up as the height of absurdity and so it would be, if we ignored the facts that Marcion was a bishop, and that according to Tertullian (De Praeser., xxx) he made the Roman community the gift of two hundred thousand sesterces soon after his arrival. this extraordinary gift of 1400 pounds (7000 dollars), a huge sum for those days, may be ascribed to the first fervour of faith, but is at least as naturally, ascribed to a lively hope. The money was returned to him after his breach with the Church. This again is more natural if it was made with a tacit condition, than if it was absolute and the outcome of pure charity. Lastly, the report that Marcion on his arrival at Rome had to hand in or to renew a confession of faith (Tert., "De Praeser., " xxx; "Adv. Mar.", I, xx; "de carne Christi", ii) fits in naturally with the supposition of his being a bishop, but would be, as G. Krüger points out, unheard of in the case of a layman.
We can take it for granted then, that Marcion was a bishop, probably an assistant or suffragan of his father at Sinope. Having fallen out with his father he travels to Rome, where, being a seafarer or shipowner and a great traveler, he already may have been known and where his wealth obtains him influence and position. If Tertullian supposes him to have been admitted to the Roman Church and Epiphanius says that he was refused admittance, the two statements can easily be reconciled if we understand the former of mere membership or communion, the latter of the acceptance of his claims. His episcopal dignity has received mention at least in two early writers, who speak of him as having "from bishop become an apostate" (Optatus of Mileve, IV, v), and of his followers as being surnamed after a bishop instead of being called Christians after Christ (Adamantius, "Dial.", I, ed. Sande Bakhuysen). Marcion is said to have asked the Roman presbyters the explanation of Matthew 9:16-17, which he evidently wished to understand as expressing the incompatibility of the New Testament with the Old, but which they interpreted in an orthodox sense. His final breach with the Roman Church occurred in the autumn of 144, for the Marcionites counted 115 years and 6 months from the time of Christ to the beginning of their sect. Tertullian roughly speaks of a hundred years and more. Marcion seems to have made common cause with Cerdo (q.v.), the Syrian Gnostic, who was at the time in Rome; that his doctrine was actually derived from that Gnostic seems unlikely. Irenaeus relates (Against Heresies III.3) that St. Polycarp, meeting Marcion in Rome was asked by him: Dost thou recognize us? and gave answer: I recognize thee as the first born of Satan. This meeting must have happened in 154, by which time Marcion had displayed a great and successful activity, for St. Justin Martyr in his first Apology (written about 150), describes Marcion's heresy as spread everywhere. These half a dozen years seem to many too short a time for such prodigious success and they believe that Marcion was active in Asia Minor long before he came to Rome. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata VII.7.106) calls him the older contemporary of Basilides and Valentinus, but if so, he must have been a middle-aged man when he came to Rome, and as previous propaganda in the East is not impossible. That the Chronicle of Edessa places the beginning of Marcionism in 138, strongly favors this view. Tertullian relates in 207 (the date of his Adv. Marc., IV, iv) that Marcion professed penitence and accepted as condition of his readmittance into the Church that he should bring back to the fold those whom he had led astray, but death prevented his carrying this out. The precise date of his death is not known.
We must distinguish between the doctrine of Marcion himself and that of his followers. Marcion was no Gnostic dreamer. He wanted a Christianity untrammeled and undefiled by association with Judaism. Christianity was the New Covenant pure and simple. Abstract questions on the origin of evil or on the essence of the Godhead interested him little, but the Old Testament was a scandal to the faithful and a stumbling-block to the refined and intellectual gentiles by its crudity and cruelty, and the Old Testament had to be set aside. The two great obstacles in his way he removed by drastic measures. He had to account for the existence of the Old Testament and he accounted for it by postulating a secondary deity, a demiurgus, who was god, in a sense, but not the supreme God; he was just, rigidly just, he had his good qualities, but he was not the good god, who was Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The metaphysical relation between these two gods troubled Marcion little; of divine emanation, aeons, syzygies, eternally opposed principles of good and evil, he knows nothing. He may be almost a Manichee in practice, but in theory he has not reached absolute consistency as Mani did a hundred years later. Marcion had secondly to account for those passages in the New Testament which countenanced the Old. He resolutely cut out all texts that were contrary to his dogma; in fact, he created his own New Testament admitting but one gospel, a mutilation of St. Luke, and an Apostolicon containing ten epistles of St. Paul. The mantle of St. Paul had fallen on the shoulders of Marcion in his struggle with the Judaisers. The Catholics of his day were nothing but the Judaisers of the previous century. The pure Pauline Gospel had become corrupted and Marcion, not obscurely, hinted that even the pillar Apostles, Peter, James, and John had betrayed their trust. He loves to speak of "false apostles", and lets his hearers infer who they were. Once the Old Testament has been completely got rid of, Marcion has no further desire for change. He makes his purely New Testament Church as like the Catholic Church as possible, consistent with his deep seated Puritanism. The first description of Marcion's doctrine dates from St. Justin: "With the help of the devil Marcion has in every country contributed to blasphemy and the refusal to acknowledge the Creator of all the world as God". He recognizes another god, who, because he is essentially greater (than the World maker or Demiurge) has done greater deeds than he (hos onta meizona ta meizona para touton pepikeni) The supreme God is hagathos, just and righteous. The good God is all love, the inferior god gives way to fierce anger. Though less than the good god, yet the just god, as world creator, has his independent sphere of activity. They are not opposed as Ormusz and Ahriman, though the good God interferes in favour of men, for he alone is all-wise and all-powerful and loves mercy more than punishment. All men are indeed created by the Demiurge, but by special choice he elected the Jewish people as his own and thus became the god of the Jews.
His theological outlook is limited to the Bible, his struggle with the Catholic Church seems a battle with texts and nothing more. The Old Testament is true enough, Moses and the Prophets are messengers of the Demiurge, the Jewish Messias is sure to come and found a millennial kingdom for the Jews on earth, but the Jewish messias has nothing whatever to do with the Christ of God. The Invisible, Indescribable, Good God (aoratos akatanomastos agathos theos), formerly unknown to the creator as well as to his creatures, has revealed Himself in Christ. How far Marcion admitted a Trinity of persons in the supreme Godhead is not known; Christ is indeed the Son of God, but he is also simply "God" without further qualification; in fact, Marcion's gospel began with the words; "In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius God descended in Capharnaum and taught on the Sabbaths". However daring and capricious this manipulation of the Gospel text, it is at least a splendid testimony that, in Christian circles of the first half of the second century the Divinity of Christ was a central dogma. To Marcion however Christ was God Manifest not God Incarnate. His Christology is that of the Docetae rejecting the inspired history of the Infancy, in fact, any childhood of Christ at all; Marcion's Savior is a "Deus ex machina" of which Tertullian mockingly says: "Suddenly a Son, suddenly Sent, suddenly Christ!" Marcion admitted no prophecy of the Coming of Christ whatever; the Jewish prophets foretold a Jewish Messias only, and this Messias had not yet appeared. Marcion used the story of the three angels, who ate, walked, and conversed with Abraham and yet had no real human body, as an illustration of the life of Christ (Adv. Marc., III, ix). Tertullian says (ibid.) that when Apelles and seceders from Marcion began to believe that Christ had a real body indeed, not by birth but rather collected from the elements, Marcion would prefer to accept even a putative birth rather than a real body. Whether this is Tertullian's mockery or a real change in Marcion's sentiments we do not know. To Marcion matter and flesh are not indeed essentially evil, but are contemptible things, a mere production of the Demiurge, and it was inconceivable that God should really have made them His own. Christ's life on earth was a continual contrast to the conduct of the Demiurge. Some of the contrasts are cleverly staged: the Demiurge sent bears to devour children for puerile merriment (Kings)-- Christ bade children come to Him and He fondled and blessed them; the Demiurge in his law declared lepers unclean and banished them but Christ touched and healed them. Christ's putative passion and death was the work of the Demiurge, who, in revenge for Christ's abolition of the Jewish law delivered Him up to hell. But even in hell Christ overcame the Demiurge by preaching to the spirits in Limbo, and by His Resurrection He founded the true Kingdom of the Good God. Epiphanius (Haer., xlii, 4) says that Marcionites believed that in Limbo Christ brought salvation to Cain, Core, Dathan and Abiron, Esau, and the Gentiles, but left in damnation all Old Testament saints. This may have been held by some Marcionites in the fourth century, but it was not the teaching of Marcion himself, who had no Antinomian tendencies. Marcion denied the resurrection of the body, "for flesh and blood shall not inherit the Kingdom of God", and denied the second coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead, for the good God, being all goodness, does not punish those who reject Him; He simply leaves them to the Demiurge, who will cast them into everlasting fire.
With regard to discipline, the main point of difference consists in his rejection of marriage, i.e. he baptized only those who were not living in matrimony: virgins, widows, celibates, and eunuchs (Tert., "Adv. Marc.", I, xxix); all others remained catechumens. On the other hand the absence of division between catechumens and baptized persons, in Marcionite worship, shocked orthodox Christians, but it was emphatically defended by Marcion's appeal to Galatians 6:6. According to Tertullian (Adv. Marc., I, xiv) he used water in baptism, anointed his faithful with oil and gave milk and honey to the catechumens and in so far retained the orthodox practices, although, says Tertullian, all these things are "beggarly elements of the Creator." Marcionites must have been excessive fasters to provoke the ridicule of Tertullian in his Montanist days. Epiphanius says they fasted on Saturday out of a spirit of opposition to the Jewish God, who made the Sabbath a day of rejoicing. This however may have been merely a western custom adopted by them.
It was the fate of Marcionism to drift away almost immediately from its founder's ideas towards mere Gnosticism. Marcion's creator or Jewish god was too inconsistent and illogical a conception, he was inferior to the good God yet he was independent; he was just and yet not good; his writings were true and yet to be discarded; he had created all men and done them no evil, yet they had not to worship and serve him. Marcion's followers sought to be more logical, they postulated three principles: good, just, and wicked, opposing the first two to the last; or one principle only, the just god being a mere creation of the good God. The first opinion was maintained by Syneros and Lucanus or Lucianus. Of the first we know nothing beyond the mention of him in Rhodon; of the second we possess more information, and Epiphanius has devoted a whole chapter to his refutation. Both Origen and Epiphanius, however, seem to know of Lucanus' sect only by hearsay; it was therefore probably extinct toward the end of the third century. Tertullian (De Resur., Carn., ii) says that he outdid even Marcion in denying the resurrection, not only of the body, but also of the soul, only admitting the resurrection of some tertium quid (pneuma as opposed to psyche?). Tertullian says that he had Lucanus' teaching in view when writing his "De Anima". It is possible that Lucanus taught transmigration of souls; according to Epiphanius some Marcionites of his day maintained it. Though Lucanus' particular sect may soon have died out, the doctrine comprised in the three principles was long maintained by Marcionites. In St. Hippolytus' time (c. 225) it was held by an Assyrian called Prepon, who wrote in defense of it a work called "Bardesanes the Armenian" (Hipp., "Adv. Haer.", VII, xxxi). Adamantius in his "Dialogue" (see below) introduces a probable fictitious Marcionite doctrine of three principles, and Epiphanius evidently puts it forward as the prominent Marcionite doctrine of his day (374). The doctrine of the One Principle only, of which the Jewish god is a creature, was maintained by the notorious Apelles, who, though once a disciple of Marcion himself, became more of a Gnostic than of a Marcionist. He was accompanied by a girl called Philumena, a sort of clairvoyante who dabbled in magic, and who claimed frequent visions of Christ and St. Paul, appearing under the form of a boy. Tertullian calls this Philumena a prostitute, and accuses Apelles of unchastity, but Rhodon, who had known Apelles personally, refers to him as "venerable in behavior and age". Tertullian often attacks him in writings ("De Praeser., " lxvii; "Adv. Marc.," III, g. 11, IV, 17) and even wrote a work against him: "Adversus Apelleiacos", which is unfortunately lost, though once known to St. Hippolytus and St. Augustine. Some fragments of Apelles have been collected by A. Harnack (first in "Texte u. Unters.", VI, 3, 1890, and then ibid., XX, or new ser., V, 3, 1900), who wrote, "De Apelles Gnosi Monarchica" (Leipzig, 1874), though Apelles emphatically repudiated Marcion's two gods and acknowledged "One good God, one Beginning, and one Power beyond all description" (akatanomastos).
This "Holy and Good God above", according to him, took no notice of things below, but made another god who made the world. Nor is this creator-god the only emanation of the Supreme God; there is a fire-angel or fire-god ("Igneus Praeses mali" according to Tertullian, "De Carne", viii) who tampered with the souls of men; there is a Jewish god, a law-god, who presumably wrote the Old Testament, which Apelles held to be a lying production. Possibly, however, the fire-god and the law-god were but manifestations of the creator-god. Apelles wrote an extensive work called Syllogismoi to prove the untrustworthiness of the Old Testament, of which Origen quotes a characteristic fragment (In Gen., II, ii). Apelles' Antidocetism has been referred to above. Of other followers of Marcion the names only are known. The Marcionites differed from the Gnostic Christians in that they thought it unlawful to deny their religion in times of persecution, nobly vying with the Catholics in shedding their blood for the name of Christ. Marcionite martyrs are not infrequently referred to in Eusebius' "Church History" (IV.15; IV.46; V.16; V.21; VII.12). Their number and influence seem always to have been less in the West than in the East, and in the West they soon died out. Epiphanius, however, testifies that in the East in A.D. 374 they had deceived "a vast number of men" and were found, "not only in Rome and Italy but in Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Cyprus and the Thebaid and even in Persia". And Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus in the Province of the Euphrates from 423 to 458, in his letter to Domno, the Patriarch of Antioch, refers with just pride to having converted one thousand Marcionites in his scattered diocese. Not far from Theodoret's diocese, near Damascus, an inscription was found of a Marcionite church, showing that in A.D. 318-319 Marcionites possessed freedom of worship (Le Boss and Waddington, "Inscr. Grec.", Paris, 1870). Constantine (Eusebius, "Vita", III, lxiv) forbade all public and private worship of Marcionism. Though the Paulicians are always designated by their adversaries as Manichæans, and though their adoption of Manichaean principles seems undeniable, yet, according to Petrus Siculus, who lived amongst Paulicians (868-869) in Tibrike and is therefore a trustworthy witness, their founder, Constantine the Armenian, on receiving Marcion's Gospel and Apostolicon from a deacon in Syria, handed it to his followers, who at first at least kept it as their Bible and repudiated all writings of Mani. The refutation of Marcionism by the Armenian Archpriest Eznic in the fifth century shows the Marcionites to have been still numerous in Armenia at that time (Eznik, "Refutation of the Sects", IV, Ger. tr., J. M. Schmid, Vienna, 1900). Ermoni maintains that Eznik's description of Marcion's doctrine still represents the ancient form thereof, but this is not acknowledged by other scholars ("Marcion dans la littérat. Arménienne" in "Revue de l'Or. Chrét.", I)
It is maintained by recent scholars that the Apostle's Creed was drawn up in the Roman Church in opposition to Marcionism (cf. F. Kattenbusch, "Das Apost. Symbol.", Leipzig, 1900; A.C. McGiffert, "The Apostle's Creed", New York, 1902). Passing over this point, Marcion's attitude toward the New Testament must be further explained. His cardinal doctrine was the opposition of the Old Testament to the New, and this doctrine he had amply illustrated in his great (lost) work, Antithesis, or "Contrasts". In order, however, to make the contrast perfect he had to omit much of the New Testament writings and to manipulate the rest. He took one Gospel out of the four, and accepted only ten Epistles of St. Paul. Marcion's Gospel was based on our canonical St. Luke with omission of the first two chapters. The text has been as far as possible restored by Th. Zahn, "Geschichte d. N.T. Kanons", II, 456-494, from all available sources especially Epiphanius, who made a collection of 78 passages. Marcion's changes mainly consist in omissions where he modifies the text. The modifications are slight, thus: "I give Thee thanks, Father, God of heaven and earth," is changed to "I give thanks, Father, Lord of heaven". "O foolish and hard of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken", is changed into, "O foolish and hard of heart to believe in all that I have told you." Sometimes slight additions are made: "We found this one subverting our nation" (the accusation of the Jews before Pilate) receives the addition: "and destroying the law and the prophets."
A similar process was followed with the Epistles of St. Paul. By the omission of a single preposition Marcion had coined a text in favor of his doctrine out of Ephesians 3:10: "the mystery which from the beginning of the world has been hidden from the God who created all things" (omitting en before theo). However cleverly the changes were made, Catholics continued to press Marcion even with the texts which he retained in his New Testament, hence the continual need of further modifications. The Epistles of St. Paul which he received were, first of all, Galatians, which he considered the charter of Marcionism, then Corinthians I and II, Romans I and II, Thessalonians, Ephesians (which, however, he knew under the name of Laodicians), Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. The Pastoral epistles, the Catholic Epistles, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, as well as Acts, were excluded. Recently De Bruyne ("Revue Benedictine", 1907, 1-16) has made out a good case for the supposition that the short prefaces to the Pauline epistles, which were once attributed to Pelagius and others, are taken out of as Marcionite Bible and augmented with Catholic headings for the missing epistles.
(1) St. Justin the Martyr (150) refers to the Marcionites in his first Apology; he also wrote a special treatise against them. This, however, mentioned by Irenæus as Syntagma pros Markiona, is lost. Irenaeus (Haer., IV, vi, 2) quotes short passages of Justin containing the sentence: "I would not have believed the Lord Himself if He had announced any other than the Creator"; also, V, 26, 2.
(2) Irenaeus (c. 176) intended to write a special work in refutation of Marcion, but never carried out his purpose (Haer., I, 27, 4; III, 12, 13); he refers to Marcion, however, again and again in his great work against Heresies especially III, 4, 2; III, 27, 2; IV, 38, 2 sq.; III, 11, 7, 25, 3.
(4) Tertullian, the main source of our information, wrote his "Adversus Marcionem" (five books) in 207, and makes reference to Marcion in several of his works: "De Praescriptione", "De Carne Christi", "De Resurrectione Carnis", and "De Anima". His work against Apelles is lost.
(5) Pseudo-Tertullian, (possibly Commodian. See H. Waitz, "Ps. Tert. Gedicht ad M.", Darmstadt, 1901) wrote a lengthy poem against Marcion in doggerel hexameters, which is now valuable. Pseudo-Tertullian's (possibly Victorinus of Pettau) short treatise against all heresies (c. A.D. 240) is also extant.
(6) Adamantius whether this is a real personage or only a nom de plume is uncertain. His dialogue "De Recta in Deum Fide", has often been ascribed to Origen, but it is beyond doubt that he is not the author. The work was probably composed about A.D. 300. It was originally written in Greek and translated by Rufinus. It is a refutation of Marcionism and Valentinianism. The first half is directed against Marcionism, which is defended by Megethius (who maintains three principles) and Marcus (who defends two). (Berlin ed. of the Fathers by Sande Bakhuysen, Leipzig, 1901).
(7) St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 220) speaks of Marcion in his "Refutation of All Heresies", book VII, ch. 17-26; and X, 15)
(8) St. Epiphanius wrote his work against heresies in 374, and is the second main source of information in his Ch. xlii-xliv). He is invaluable for the reconstruction of Marcion's Bible text, as he gives 78 and 40 passages from Marcion's New Testament where it differs from ours and adds a short refutation in each instance.
(9) St. Ephraem (373) maintains in many of his writings a polemic against Marcion, as in his "Commentary on the Diatesseron" (J.R. Harris, "Fragments of Com. on Diates.", London, 1895) and in his "Metrical Sermons" (Roman ed., Vol II, 437-560, and Overbeek's Ephraem etc., Opera Selecta).
(10) Eznik, an Armenian Archpriest, or possibly Bishop of Bagrawand (478) wrote a "Refutation of the Sects", of which Book IV is a refutation of Marcion. Translated into German, J.M. Schmid, Vienna, 1900.
Meyboom. Marcion en de Marcioneten (Leyden, 1888); Idem, Het Christendom der tweede Eeuw (Groningen, 1897); Krueger, extensive article in Hauck, Real Encyclop. der Prot. Theol., XII, 1903; s.v.; Harnack, Gescichte der altchrist Lit., I, 191-197, 839-840; Texte und untersuchung, VI, 3 pp., 109-120; XX, 3, pp. 93-100 (1900); 2nd II, 2, 537; Bardenhewer, Gesch. der altkirchl. lit. II (1902); Zahn, Geschichte des N.T. Kanons, I and II (1888); Das Apost. Symbol. (Leipzig, 1893); Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte des Ur-Christenhums (Leipzig, 1884).
APA citation. (1910). Marcionites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09645c.htm
MLA citation. "Marcionites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09645c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Tom Crossett.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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