Early Church and divorce confusion

In another thread in the non-Catholic religions section, there is a discussion about the Catholic vs Orthodox views about marriage.

It was suggested in a link that the early Church supported the idea of adultery dissolving marriage, and gave also quotes from some Latin councils and Penitentials shamelessorthodoxy.com/2016/09/17/divorce-remarriage-in-the-latin-west-a-forgotten-history/
I have been doing research on this (not very extensive, I only started today) because of course this would question if our faith is based on Tradition!

I found out some things but some other things are not clear.

To clarify, I am seeking the truth… but I do believe in the Catholic Church… and I’m not here to be controversial. I am sincerely trying to figure this out and looking for information.

I found out from Catholic Encyclopedia, which actually mentions these Penitentials, that they were not official and were soon suppressed by the Church… it seems they were influenced by the secular government of the time. Same could be said about the Frankish Councils that were linked on the website - they are also described on Catholic Encyclopedia as having been influenced by the government.

Also the same article from Catholic Encyclopaedia describes how the word divorce in ecclesiastical writings foes not necessarily mean the dissolution of a marital bond but simply separation too.

Here is the article newadvent.org/cathen/05054c.htm

I also found quotes supporting the Catholic view from the early Church… Some are very clear that a marriage stays intact after adultery and there can be no remarriage. Separation can happen in that case but that’s it. catholic.com/tract/the-permanence-of-matrimony

However there are a couple things I really can’t figure out that have to do with the permanence of marriage after adultery and the possibility of remarriage. I’ll deal with that in a second post…

1). How come some Church Fathers (St John Chrysostom) seem to support the Orthodox view and others (St Augustine) the Catholic view.

Compare St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 19 on First Corinthians:

“while in the woman who prostitutes herself, the husband is not condemned in casting her out…the marriage has already been dissolved”

“Again in that case, after the fornication the husband is not a husband”

And St Augustine

“Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others. This adultery, nevertheless, is certainly less serious than that of men who dismiss their wives for reasons other than fornication and take other wives. Therefore, when we say: ‘Whoever marries a woman dismissed by her husband for reason other than fornication commits adultery,’ undoubtedly we speak the truth. But we do not thereby acquit of this crime the man who marries a woman who was dismissed because of fornication. We do not doubt in the least that both are adulterers. We do indeed pronounce him an adulterer who dismissed his wife for cause other than fornication and marries another, nor do we thereby defend from the taint of this sin the man who dismissed his wife because of fornication and marries another. We recognize that both are adulterers, though the sin of one is more grave than that of the other. No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery” (Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9 [A.D. 419]).

They seem to be saying opposite things…

There is also St Jerome but he doesn’t seem to specify if the marital bond is still there or not after adultery… He allows divorce but it can simply mean separation, as Catholic Encyclopaedia explained (the term divorce in Church writings does not imply a dissolution necessarily)

Saint Jerome on Matthew 19:9, AD 398:

It is fornication alone that conquers the affection for one’s wife. Indeed, the “one flesh” he has with his wife, he shares with another woman. By fornication she separates herself from her husband. She should not be held, lest she cause her husband to be cursed too, since the Scripture says: “He who holds an adulteress is foolish and impious (Proverbs 18:22).” Therefore, whenever there is fornication and suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely divorced. And since it could have happened that someone brought a false charge against an innocent person, and on account of the second marriage-union hurled a charge at the first wife, it is commanded to divorce the first wife in such a way that he has no second wife while the first one is living. For he says the following: If you divorce your wife not on account of lust, but on account of an injury, why after the experience of the first unhappy marriage do you admit yourself into the danger of a new one? And besides, it could have come to pass that according to the same law, the wife too would have given a bill of divorce to the husband. And so by the same precaution, it is commanded that she not receive a second husband. And since a prostitute and she who had once been an adulteress were not afraid of reproach, the second husband is commanded that if he marries such a woman, he will be under the charge of adultery.

2). The Councils.

Catholic Encyclopaedia explains how the Frankish Synods may have been influenced by the government. But regarding the other ones… There are a couple difficulties I have

This Synod was apparently presided by a Pope:

Synod of Rome, AD 826, which Pope Eugenius II presided over:

De his, qui adhibitam sibi uxorem reliquerunt et aliam sociaverunt. Nulli liceat, excepta causa fornicationis, adhibitam uxorem relinquere et deinde aliam copulare; alioquin transgressorem priori convenit sociari coniugio. Sin autem vir et uxor divertere pro sola religiosa inter se consenserint vita, nullatenus sine conscientia episocopi fiat, ut ab eo singulariter proviso constituantur loco. Nam uxore nolente aut altero eorum etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Forma minor: Nullus excepta causa fornicationis uxorem suam dimittat. Si vero vir et uxor pro religion dividi voluerint, cum consensus episcopi hic faciant. Nam si unus voluerit et alius noluerit, etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Concerning those men, who have divorced [their] married wives and marry another. Let no one, except for the cause of fornication, divorce their married wife and then marry another. Otherwise, it is suitable for the transgressor to be married to the former spouse. If however a man and wife consent to divorce between themselves for the sake of a monastic life, in no way shall it be so without the joint knowledge of the bishop, so that they may be stationed by him in a single prepared location. For [if] due to an unwilling wife or her husband, let it not be dissolved for the sake of the marriage.

Smaller form: Let no one divorce his wife except for the cause of fornication. Truly if a man and a wife wish to separate for [pursuing] a religious life, let them do so with the consent of the bishop here. For if one wishes and another does not wish, let the marriage not be dissolved.

Concilia Romanum, canon 36, MGH, Concilia aevi Karolini, 2.1: 582


How do we understand this?

3). There are certain quotes that talk about not marrying after adultery… I noticed they often mention the husband being the adulterer:

“Likewise, a woman of the faith * who has left an adulterous husband of the faith and marries another, her marrying in this manner is prohibited. If she has so married, she may not receive Communion—unless he that she has left has since departed from this world” (Canon 9). Council of Elvira

“Do not tell me about the violence of the ravisher, about the persuasiveness of a mother, about the authority of a father, about the influence of relatives, about the intrigues and insolence of servants, or about household [financial] losses. So long as a husband lives, be he adulterer, be he sodomite, be he addicted to every kind of vice, if she left him on account of his crimes, he is her husband still and she may not take another” (Letters 55:3 [A.D. 396]). St Jerome

St Jerome also tells the husband not to remarry but gives a different motive

“Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may calumniate the innocent and, for the sake of a second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed, a second may not be taken while the first lives” (Commentaries on Matthew3:19:9 [A.D. 398]).

I came across an Orthodox link that says that the Church laws at the time were based on Roman law

“The custom of the Church is to allow the man authority to divorce his wife when he finds her to be fornicating or committing adultery, but not to let a woman divorce her husband even though she find him to be fornicating or committing adultery. If on the other hand, she should divorce him on grounds of fornication or adultery, and he, being unable to suffer should marry a second woman, the first women who divorced him will have the sin of such a separation, whereas the husband deserves a pardon for having married a second time, and his second wife is not condemned as an adulteress. Gregory the Theologian did not accept this custom, which came into the Church from Roman civil law.”


The fact that they spoke about divorce after adultery could refer to separation but what is different is that the man was given pardon and not the woman. This raises a question… I think its a difficult question. Are the Synods that allow a remarriage (to a man) influenced by this, when no remarriage should occur (that doesn’t contradict Catholicism) or is it the other way - are those quotes directed to the women more restrictive because of this Roman secular law? (Which would point to the Orthodox teaching that the guidance to the men is the normative one). Catholics and Orthodox would disagree. Where does the evidence lie?

We can look at the early Church Fathers… St Augustine would forbid the men to remarry too. St John Chrysostom seems to disagree and says that the marriage is dissolved by divorce.

Of course as Catholics we would look to the Pope… Which brings up the question of the Council in the other question. Did that Council allow remarriage after divorce? The one that had the Pope presiding.

However, the Catholic Church went on to disallow this as we can see in the example of many other Popes.*

Ok in reading more I think I found a possible answer to the above question, yay :slight_smile:

The occurrences of passages in some Fathers, even among those just quoted, which treat the husband more mildly in case of adultery, or seem to allow him a new marriage after the infidelity of his spouse, does not prove that these expressions are to be understood of the permissibility of a new marriage, but of the lesser canonical penance and of exemption from punishment by civil law. Or if they refer to a command on the part of the Church, the new marriage is supposed to take place after the death of the wife who was dismissed. This permission was mentioned, not without reason, as a concession for the innocent party, because at some periods the Church’s laws in regard to the guilty party forbade forever any further marriage (cf. can. vii of the Council of Compiègne, 757). It is well known that the civil law, even of the Christian emperors, permitted in several cases a new marriage after the separation of the wife. Hence, without contradicting himself, St. Basil could say of the husband, “He is not condemned”, and “He is considered excusable” (ep. clxxxviii, can. ix, and Ep. cxcix, can. xxi, in P.G., XXXII, 678, 721), because he is speaking distinctly of the milder treatment of the husband than of the wife with regard to the canonical penance imposed for adultery. St. Epiphanius, who is especially reproached with teaching that the husband who had put away his wife because of adultery or another crime was allowed by Divine law to marry another (Hæres, lix, 4, in P.G., XLI, 1024), is speaking in reality of a second marriage after the death of the divorced wife, and whilst he declares in general that such a second marriage is allowed, but is less honourable, still he makes the exception in regard to this last part in favour of one who had long been separate from his first wife. The other Fathers of the following centuries, in whose works ambiguous or obscure expressions may be found, are to be explained in like manner.


While I am not sure why you are researching Orthodox topics -perhaps regarding catholic-Orthodox debate, thank you for doing so.

Based on the information you had put forward, and what I know of in terms of their eucharist, on many things they are a “Yes but no”, while Catholic codified the “no”.

The last question… (Sorry for such an enormous thread! This is such a big topic) has to do with the Scriptures…

What did Our Lord mean when He said in Matthew “except for adultery”?

In reading Matthew 5, it sounds like that phrase can be attributed only to the separating part not to the remarriage part. So it could read like a husband makes a woman adulteress by divorcing her (because she might marry) however if she already is adulteress then he’s not causing that to happen. (So they can separate, which the Church allows). But for marrying again, the adultery phrase is not included, so its adultery no matter what. Which is the Catholic teaching - they can separate if there’s adultery, but not remarry

However I’m stuck with two questions with this.

  1. the Church also allows separation for other grave reasons

  2. Matthew 19 uses other phrasing which no longer fits with this… newadvent.org/bible/mat019.htm

Can anyone help to figure this out? :shrug:


I notice two interesting things.

The statement about divorce being allowed in OT didn’t talk about remarriage… And

In Latin, in Matthew 19 there are different words used for the initial adultery of the woman - fornicationem

And the adultery of the remarriage -mœchatur

Does anyone know enough Latin to compare them or came across any good explanations? COULD the first instance refer to something that would invalidate a marriage, as some believe?

I think I see what you mean…

I am researching this topic because the link I saw challenges the Catholic understanding and not knowing enough, I decided to look into the history… Its been a long evening so far hopefully these questions can be figured out with the Church’s teaching… :slight_smile:

Christ was referring to invalid and illegal marriages, either marriages within forbidden degrees of consanguinity [incest] (Lev 18:6-16) or contracted with a Gentile. (Navarre Bible Commentary)

Dave Armstrong’s book Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison has a section regarding the Orthodox view of divorce.

This is the first part out of three.

in st. Luke ch 16:18 our Lord said the following

"Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery. "

This is very clear that one cannot remarry. The Catholic Church is more ancient than any other.

As for saint Matthew ch.5 verses 31-32 says:

“And it hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”

Also saint Matthew ch18 verse 3-12 Our Lord said:

" And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh."
Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. [9] And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry.

Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it."

I left the number of verse 9 on purpose
Because according to Bishop Richard Challenger he explains in his notes:

[9] “Except it be”: In the case of fornication, that is, of adultery, the wife may be put away: but even then the husband cannot marry another as long as the wife is living.
(From the douay-rheims version, which was directly translated from the Latin vulgate)

In the book of saint Mark chapter 10 verse 2-12 Our Lord said

"And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. But he answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you that precept.

But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing.

And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. "

This is the second part out of three:

In the first epistle to the corinthians verse 10-15

But to them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife. [12] For to the rest I speak, not the Lord. If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And if any woman hath a husband that believeth not, and he consent to dwell with her, let her not put away her husband. [14] For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband: otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace. "

Bishop Richard Challenger further explains:

12] “I speak, not the Lord”: Viz., by any express commandment, or ordinance.

[14] “Is sanctified”: The meaning is not, that the faith of the husband or the wife is of itself sufficient to put the unbelieving party, or their children, in the state of grace and salvation; but that it is very often an occasion of their sanctification, by bringing them to the true faith.

In the first epistle to the corinthians verse 16-17

" For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? [17] But as the Lord hath distributed to every one, as God hath called every one, so let him walk: and so in all churches I teach. "

In the first Epistle to the corinthians verse 26-29:

"I think therefore that this is good for the present necessity, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned: nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh. But I spare you. This therefore I say, brethren; the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none; "

In the first Epistle to the corinthians verse 32-34

" But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. [33] But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. [34] And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband."

In the first epistle to the corinthians verse 39:

“A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty: let her marry to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

As you can see the Holy Gospel is against divorce. We have been defending what Our Lord has said since the very beggining of Christianity

Personally I think, since Matthew is the only one to mention an exception clause to Jesus’ teaching on divorce and since Matthew is also the only one to mention that St Joseph planned to divorce his wife, the Virgin Mary, when he found out between the time they were married and the time they began living together as husband and wife that she was pregnant, the exception clause in Matthew refers just to adultery committed in an unconsummated marriage, which might have been more of an issue among Jewish converts to Christianity, which was Matthew’s target audience, than among Gentile converts, which was the target audience of the other gospel writers, since Jews at the time were used to having a long period of time - something like a year - between the time a marriage was contracted and the time it was consummated. Even today, the Catholic Church permits, with the pope’s approval, the spouses in an unconsummated marriage to divorce and remarry.

I know you have been studying orthodoxy.
I made my research due to a friend. He was not trying to convert me nor am I trying to convert him.
However I researched throughly
Remember one thing.
Yes we both are Catholic one day they will return.
But this you must keep in mind
Saint Paul and saint Peter died in Rome:

Remember the promises of Our Lord in Saint Matthew Ch. 16 verses 15-20

" Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ. "

Bishop Richard Challenger 's side notes say the following;

[18] “Thou art Peter”: As St. Peter, by divine revelation, here made a solemn profession of his faith of the divinity of Christ; so in recompense of this faith and profession, our Lord here declares to him the dignity to which he is pleased to raise him: viz., that he to whom he had already given the name of Peter, signifying a rock, St. John 1. 42, should be a rock indeed, of invincible strength, for the support of the building of the church; in which building he should be, next to Christ himself, the chief foundation stone, in quality of chief pastor, ruler, and governor; and should have accordingly all fulness of ecclesiastical power, signified by the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

[18] “Upon this rock”: The words of Christ to Peter, spoken in the vulgar language of the Jews which our Lord made use of, were the same as if he had said in English, Thou art a Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church. So that, by the plain course of the words, Peter is here declared to be the rock, upon which the church was to be built: Christ himself being both the principal foundation and founder of the same. Where also note, that Christ, by building his house, that is, his church, upon a rock, has thereby secured it against all storms and floods, like the wise builder, St. Matt. 7. 24, 25.

[18] “The gates of hell”: That is, the powers of darkness, and whatever Satan can do, either by himself, or his agents. For as the church is here likened to a house, or fortress, built on a rock; so the adverse powers are likened to a contrary house or fortress, the gates of which, that is, the whole strength, and all the efforts it can make, will never be able to prevail over the city or church of Christ. By this promise we are fully assured, that neither idolatry, heresy, nor any pernicious error whatsoever shall at any time prevail over the church of Christ.

[19] “Loose upon earth”: The loosing the bands of temporal punishments due to sins, is called an indulgence; the power of which is here granted.

The Orthodox argue this passage:

" And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.)" (Which is very true) however why did Our Lord said Peter in the book of saint Matthew which is quoted above. The following part;

" And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven"
It is very clear to me this is the Roman Catholic Church.
The Orthodox are bound to obey it. I love the tradition of the Church I attend the traditional Latin Mass in accordance with the Vatican.
Why not try the Latin mass if you feel very attracted to tradition? Find the fraternity of Society of Saint Peter .

St. John Chrysostom writes there about justified separation of the spouses (1 Corinthians 7:12-14): “For as when discoursing about separating from fornicators, he made the matter easy…” and “in the woman who prostitutes herself, the husband is not condemned in casting her out?” and “I mean something like this: she that has been guilty of fornication is utterly abominable: if then he that is joined to an harlot is one body, he also becomes abominable by having connection with an harlot; wherefore all the purity flits away.”

St. John Chrysostom states in Homily 17 on Matthew:

Thus, He that puts away his wife, says He, causes her to commit adultery, and he that marries a woman put away, commits adultery. That is, the former, though he take not another wife, by that act alone has made himself liable to blame, having made the first an adulteress; the latter again has become an adulterer by taking her who is another’s. For tell me not this, the other has cast her out; nay, for when cast out she continues to be the wife of him that expelled her.


And not thus only, but in another way also He has lightened the enactment: forasmuch as even for him He leaves one manner of dismissal, when He says, Except for the cause of fornication; since the matter had else come round again to the same issue. For if He had commanded to keep her in the house, though defiling herself with many, He would have made the matter end again in adultery.

Council of Trent, Session XXIV (Denzinger)

977 Can. 7. If anyone says that the Church errs, * inasmuch as she has taught and still teaches that in accordance with evangelical and apostolic doctrine Matt. 10: 1 1Cor. 7] the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved because of adultery of one of the married persons, and that both, or even the innocent one, who has given no occasion for adultery, cannot during the lifetime of the other contract another marriage, and that he, who after the dismissal of the adulteress shall marry another, is guilty of adultery, and that she also, who after the dismissal of the adulterer shall marry another: let him be anathema.

He did not say "except for adultery’. That is a faulty translation.

The term means unlawful marriage-- invalid.

Beware the ellipsis. The website you got this from is trying to make it appear that St John Crystosom is saying something he is not saying.

Read things in their entirety.

Look, you’ve expended a lot of energy on something that is quite simple:

Whether or not early church fathers wrote or pondered on both sides of the argument the Church NEVER taught anything other than what it teaches now and the “Orthodox” were united with the Church for the first thousand years on this doctrine.

Please present the sources which back up such a ludicrous claim.

You see that is not possible.
We catholics as well as the Orthodox have the same views with regards that we cannot have personal intrepetations.
Only the priest can give the intrepetations of Holy mother church.
As you see when it is written as I posted for the part of except it means there is times when one can separate but never divorce because as you see in the other passages of the Bible that are posted it would contradict if divorce would be allowed.

We do have in the church something called declaration of nullity. Those cannot and should not be granted lightly.
It does not dissolve a marriage. What it does it declares a marriage naked or invalid. To declare invalid there must be a lack of form, this basically means that there must be a preexisting condition prior to the marriage ceremony.
If a couple did not disclosed something important prior to the marriage and later was found out. Example, Such as someone threatened to kill someone due if they do not marry. Then there was no marriage because there is lack of consent. Same it goes for someone who had the intention to be unfaithful before they married then there may be grounds for a declaration of nullity, I say may because the church will prove that the marriage was valid at first if they see that the claim was false and a lie by either party and that both had originally the intention to be married and had the intention to be faithful then the church cannot grant an the declaration of nullity because the church cannot seperated what God has Joined. There are other extreme circumstances but that can be discussed with father and father will review and see (based on Canon law and church laws as to whether there is an invalid marriage.

So we know it is not divorce, and cannot believe in divorce.

I do love the Latin Mass too and I attend the Mass with the Fraternity :slight_smile:

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