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Setting the record straight…

The Case of Pope Honorius I

These days, recognize-and-resist adherents are in an extremely difficult spot: They can no longer deny the horrendous public apostasy perpetrated by Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) on a near-daily basis, yet they absolutely refuse to consider even as a possibility the idea that the greatest apostate the world has ever known is not at the same time the Vicar of Christ and head of the infallible and indefectible Roman Catholic Church.

Time and again, therefore, they are eager to find historical precedent for their position, and few things seem to please them more than to find, ostensibly, a “heretical Pope” in Church history they can point to in support of their stance. Like the Gallicans of the 19th century, today’s recognize-and-resisters think they have found such a case in the seventh-century Pope Honorius I, whom several ecumenical councils (Constantinople III, Nicea II, and Constantinople IV) anathematized as a “heretic” for appearing to endorse the heresy of Monothelitism in a letter to Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople.

But what are the historical facts, and how can we be sure of them?

The issue of Pope Honorius was never more controversial than on the eve of and during the First Vatican Council, which was held from 1869-70 and defined as a dogma, among other things, the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra. It was during this time that all the known facts on Pope Honorius were scrutinized and hotly debated. (Even the question of what would happen if a Pope became a public heretic was raised — and answered.) Arguments from all sides were exchanged by means of books, pamphlets, articles, and speeches. For example, in 1868 the Jesuit Fr. Paul Bottalla published the book Pope Honorius before the Tribunal of Reason and History (available for free electronically here), which he wrote in response to Peter Le Page Renouf’s pamphlet, The Condemnation of Pope Honorius.

Some maintained that Pope Honorius was indeed a Monothelite heretic, and that history proved it; others claimed that the historical documents on which this accusation rested had been interpolated or were outright forgeries. Others still argued that although the documents had to be admitted as authentic, they did not in fact prove Honorius to have been a heretic.

In order to bring this controversy, which has once again flared up in our day, to a decisive end, we have undertaken to translate from the original French the research presented on this issue by Fr. Louis-Nazaire Bégin (1840-1925) in his book La Primauté et l’Infaillibilité des Souverains Pontifes (“The Primacy and Infallibility of the Sovereign Pontiffs”), published in 1873. The Canadian Fr. Begin held a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was later appointed Archbishop of Quebec by Pope Leo XIII (1898) and created cardinal by Pope St. Pius X (1914). At the time of the Vatican Council, Fr. Begin was teaching dogmatic theology and Church history at a seminary in Quebec.

Writing in 1873, Fr. Begin had the benefit of being able to draw from all the research done in preparation for the council, from the acts of the council, and from its teachings. His book, which is based on a series of university lessons he gave, bears the required imprimatur of Cardinal Taschereau, then the Archbishop of Quebec. It is clear, therefore, that it will be a most reliable source — both in terms of assessing the facts of history and of ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy — for unraveling the confusing case of Pope Honorius according to the mind of the Church.

Fr. Begin’s book does not solely deal with the Pope Honorius controversy. As the title indicates, it is a general vindication of papal primacy and infallibility throughout Church history. It has been published only in French and can be read online for free here and purchased in paperback here. An English translation of the entire book is not available; however, we have translated the lecture dealing with the Honorius question and are making it available for you in full at the following link:

In this text, Fr. Begin proposes to answer “all the objections levied against the orthodoxy of Pope Honorius”, and he does not fail to deliver. “It is good for all to be acquainted with this controversy”, the author instructs his readers, “which has upset souls so much and which the enemies of the Church have abused so often against the papacy and Catholicism in general.”

The Canadian priest outlines the task before him as follows:

I shall begin by showing that the documents in question, that is to say the letter of Sergius to Honorius, the two letters of Honorius to Sergius, and the acts of the Sixth Council, are authentic; then I shall show that Honorius, nevertheless, did not fall into heresy, and that the Sixth [Ecumenical] Council [i.e. the Third Council of Constantinople] did not condemn him as a formal heretic, but only as guilty of negligence.

All of this Fr. Begin accomplishes with the necessary seriousness, erudition, sensibility, love of truth, and dedication to Holy Mother Church such an important subject demands.

The following select quotes from Fr. Begin’s investigation of the Pope Honorius case touch upon some key points of the controversy and will serve as additional incentives to read the entire text:

We come now to a very serious question, one which touches the very heart of our subject. This is the question: Did Pope Honorius fall into the heresy of Monotheletism? I answer, “No!” Here I find myself to have for adversaries a throng of writers hostile to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, I am supported by men who are the most eminent for their knowledge and erudition.

In his first letter [to Sergius, Pope Honorius] repeats several times that “the Scriptures demonstrate clearly that Jesus Christ is the same Who operates in things divine and in things human;” that “Jesus Christ operates in the two natures, divinely and humanly.” Nothing could be clearer or more obvious! The heresy is right away knocked down. It is thus evident that Honorius confesses in Jesus Christ not only two natures, but also two wills and two operations. Thus, this Pontiff professes in his letters the Catholic truth; he rejects only the new words being used to express it, and this for reasons of prudence, in order not to appear to favor Nestorianism or Eutychianism, and also because Sergius astutely portrayed these new expressions as a cause of troubles in the Church and an obstacle to the return of Monosphysites to orthodoxy.

John, secretary to Honorius, who wrote the letter to Sergius and who must have known better than any other the thoughts of the Pontiff, said on this matter: “When we spoke of a single will in the Lord, we did not have in view His double nature, divine and human, but His humanity only…. We meant that Jesus Christ did not have two contrary wills, that is to say one of the flesh and one of the spirit, as we ourselves have on account of sin, but that, with regard to His humanity, He had but one natural will.”

Pope John IV gave to Honorius’s words absolutely the same sense. It is therefore quite evident that the doctrine of Honorius in his letters to Sergius is irreproachable from the point of view of sound theology, because in addition to the divine will, which no one has denied, he confesses the human will in all its perfection.

…[Honorius’] unique goal, and certainly a very praiseworthy one, was to maintain peace in the Church by preventing the introduction of new words and removing all obstacles to the return of heretics to the true doctrine.

Thus, amid all the accusations brought against Honorius by the Fathers of the Sixth Council, none of them amounted to formal heresy; all of them were limited to incriminating this pope for having followed the advice of Sergius, who prescribed silence on the doctrine of the two operations in Jesus Christ, by which the error was propagated due to the audacious activity of the Monothelites and the blind obedience of Catholics, by which the heresy was not rejected and condemned in principle with the courage and energy which ought to be found in the supreme pastor; but in none of this do you see the council accuse Honorius of having professed a doctrine contrary to that of the Church. His negligence–this was his entire crime, this is why he was reproached, and this is what brought him condemnation.

…I do not deny the condemnation; on the contrary, I admit it according to what I said moments ago; but I distinguish the word heretic, which is quite imprecise and was still more so at the time of the councils in question. It was designated not only to those who professed the heresy knowingly and obstinately, but also to those who benefited it in any manner whatsoever, be it by their silence and negligence when their responsibilities obliged them to take action, be it by defending persons or the writings of heretics, be it even due to their communication with these heretics, or that they involuntarily admitted their doctrines.

…From this, I conclude that Honorius could have been condemned as a heretic by these three councils, and that he in fact was, not for having taught error, but solely for not having exerted the necessary vigor in his duties as Head of the Church, for not having vigorously used his authority to repress heresy, for having prescribed silence about the manner of expressing a truth, and having thus contributed to the diffusion of error.

This is the same conclusion which was reached by almost everyone who dealt with this question during the Vatican Council. Dom Guéranger, Abbot of the Solesmes Benedictines, said on the matter, “The real Sixth Council, the one to which the Roman Pontiff gave the necessary and canonical form, the one which requires the respect of the faithful, condemned Honorius only as an unfaithful guardian of the deposit of the faith, but not as having himself been an adherent of heresy. Justice and truth forbid us from going beyond that.”

These select few quotes are by no means meant to replace an attentive and thorough reading of the entire text, which we have gone through the trouble of procuring for you in English translation. Here, again, is the link to the full chapter:

You will not regret spending some time reading the scholarly presentation by this eminent seminary professor and later cardinal-archbishop.

Understanding the Pope Honorius controversy correctly is extremely important in our day, not only for the sake of maintaining the purity of Catholic doctrine and clarifying the historical facts, but also and especially so that it cannot be misused by others to promote a public apostate as the Vicar of Christ and head of the Catholic Church. The next time someone tries to tell you that Pope Honorius was a heretic, or that several ecumenical councils have condemned Pope Honorius as one, you will now have the ammunition you need to set the historical record straight.

Image sources: Wikimedia Commons
Licenses: public domain

25 Responses to “The Case of Pope Honorius I”

  1. Annonymous

    Thank you so much for this. I have had this poor Pope Honorius thrown at me as an example of a heretical pope many times by R&Rs but was unable to find any proper defence of him anywhere. This article and translation have been long needed. Once again, thank you and God bless you!

  2. Gisèle A. Demers

    Thank you for the reference to this book, I simply started reading a few pages and love it already….That will be my homework for this weekend!

  3. Freitas AJ

    Theological debate about pope Honorius I can’t really be seriously discussed without mention the enormous studies of a brazilian theologist, Mr. Homero de Oliveira Johas, on this theme.

    “Um Papa Herético” (An Heretical Pope), in 2 volumes, demonstrates that Honorius I was, indeed, correctly condemned for being heretic, refuting the falsification thesis and the persons who defend him from the acusation of being not justfully condemned.

    • George

      I’m sorry, AJ, but this is the kind of comment that just sets me off. You mention some Spanish-language two-volume work that you know no one has read, or ever will, and you give not even the least hint what sort of argument this Johas guy used to allegedly refute those who deny that Honorius was a formal heretic. Nevertheless, you claim that the issue cannot be seriously discussed without mentioning him. I say that unless you can tell us why his work is important, and I suspect you can’t, then mentioning him contributes little or nothing to the discussion.

      • Freitas AJ

        Homero de Oliveira Johas wrote these books in portuguese. About the same subject, wrote at least more 4 books, with further documentation that corrobore this thesis.

        He, from 70′ to 90′, was one of the most important laics that closely helped Mons. De Castro Mayer and Mons. Marcel Lefebvre when they sent admonitions to the Novus Ordo Vatican II sect (at least two of those letters were written by him, and both bishops just signed them before sending to Rome).

        Mr. H. Johas and Roberto Gorostiaga have been important figures in the development of sedevacantist position in South America and still have a special role in every single catholic that embraces sedevacantism in Brazil and in many other spanish countries.

        He demonstrates, using all the debates, all the oficial documents of the VI Ecumenical Council (both in greek and latin versions) and a enormous compilation of historical and contextual documents to refute the S. Robert Bellarmine version and the version of those who excuse Honorius I from the “formal heretic” condenation.

        I’m sorry, I do not write in English so often, so maybe I can’t express myself with full force.

        But I’ve been reading about this theme for about one decade and I can assure you that from all the books I’ve already read on this subject, this is by far the most solid in demonstration of his thesis – and it is imprescindible to the status quaestionis understanding.

        And this argument expressed by this article above is imprecise. It contradicts the text of the Pope Saint Leo II confirmation letter of the VI Council, named “Regi Regum” (some call it “Piissimi”, too, but it doesn’t matter: if do you want to read the full document, search for in MANSI vol 11, columns 370-371 – in this document, the holy father confirms the condenation of pope Honorius I with “SAME VENERATION AND CENSORSHIP” that the conciliar fathers have imposed on him – and the sense of the conciliar fathers is easily verifiable in the texts and acts of the VI Ecumenical Council)

        IN LATIN, the most important key to understand the sense under we have to understand all the later texts about this crucial question:

        “Propterea sicut suscepimus atque firmiter praedicamus sancta quinque universalia concilia, Nicaenum, Constantinopolitanum, Ephesinum primum, Chalcedonense, et Constantinopolitanum, quae et omnis Christi Ecclesia approbat et sequitur: et ita quod nuper in regia urbe pio vestrae serenitatis annisu celebratum est sanctum sextum concilium, ut eorum pedissequum et ea interpretans pari veneratione atque censura suscipimus, et hoc cum eis digne connumerari, tanquam una et aequali Dei gratia congregatum decernimus: et qui in eo fideliter convenerunt Christi Ecclesiae sacerdotes, inter sanctos Ecclesiae Patres atque doctores adscribendos aeque censemus.”

        (full transcription in,%20Epistolae,%20%20%20%20%20p4&id=Leo_II_cps2,%20Epistolae,%20%20%20%20%20p4,%20%20%20%20%2029&level=99&level9798=&satz=29&hilite_id=Leo_II_cps2,%20Epistolae,%20%20%20%20%20p4,%20%20%20%20%2029&string=CENSURA&binary=&corpus=2&target=&lang=0&home=&von=suchergebnis&hide_apparatus=1&inframe=1&jumpto=29#29)

        • George

          AJ, you write in English just fine. And I take back my snide comments, except insofar as they elicited such a good and substantial response. Nevertheless, I see perhaps a weakness in the thesis you’re promoting, which I will try to comment upon a little later.

          • Freitas AJ

            ´No problem, George. I’m here to learn and share, if I can.

          • Juan V. P.

            Sir, do you know what happened with Felipe Coelho’s Acies Ordinata website?

          • Freitas AJ

            Yes. Acies Ordinata has been deleted by his autor.
            The reasons are secret and only Mr. F. Coelho can give them to you; but, as far as I know, he’s been dedicated to his family actually.

          • Juan V. P.

            Thank you for your reply. It is really a pity that he deleted all the good articles he wrote. I cannot understand why he did it.

        • Novus Ordo Watch

          Sir, you have not demonstrated anything in your above comments that would in any wise disprove Fr. Begin’s thesis.

          Also, be careful about promoting books without Church approval that accuse a Pope of heresy. Books like the one you mentioned would probably have been put on the Index, as was Dollinger’s, for example. The mere fact that someone issues a study does not prove anything — we have to use, insofar as possible, studies approved by the Church. That’s why I posted a source from 1873 with an imprimatur by an author who was later made archbishop and cardinal. I wanted to be sure that it was something we can actually rely on based on the judgment of the Church.

          • Freitas AJ

            This type of demonstration was not my intention to be done in this blogrool, NOW, but just the “exposée” of the existence of theological studies at least one century more accurate and complete then the poor argumentation presented for Fr. Bégin, that just simply ignores the problem of one specific type of mitigated monothelism (that admits two natures and just one teandric operation, without true and full natural operation) that is condemned by the Church and it is defended by Honorius in his two letters, and that Sergius and Honorius were defending against Saint Sofronius.

            I do not want to impose nothing to thee, my brothers, just commented that this study of Mr. Johas is very important to anyone that wants to discuss the Pope Honorius I problem – and it’s just lazy ignore these books just because they’re not in your language or because they’re without Imprimatur (none of the studies of Pe. Cekada, also, have this Imprimatur…)

            God Bless you all.

          • HolyAngels93

            St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, writes in his book “The History of Heresies and Their Refutation”:

            “Not alone the heretical, but even some Catholic writers, have judged, from these expressions of Pope Honorius, that he fell into the Monothelite heresy; but they are certainly deceived; because when he says that there is only one will in Christ, he intends to speak of Christ as man alone, and in that sense, as a Catholic, he properly denies that there are two wills in Christ opposed to each other, as in us the flesh is opposed to the spirit; and if we consider the very words of his letter, we will see that such is his meaning. ‘We confess one will alone in Jesus Christ, for the Divinity did not assume our sin, but our nature, as it was created before it was corrupted by sin.’ This is what Pope John IV. writes to the Emperor Constantine II., in his apology for Honorius: ‘Some,’ said he, ‘admitted two contrary wills in Jesus Christ, and Honorius answers that by saying that Christ—perfect God and perfect man—having come to heal human nature, was conceived and born without sin, and therefore, never had two opposite wills, nor in him the will of the flesh ever combated the will of the spirit, as it does in us, on account of the sin contracted from Adam.’ He therefore concludes that those who imagine that Honorius taught that there was in Christ but one will alone of the Divinity and of the humanity, are at fault. St. Maximus, in his dialogue with Pyrrhus, and St. Anastasius Bibliothecarius, make a similar defence for Honorius. Graveson, in confirmation of this, very properly remarks, that as St. Cyril, in his dispute with Nestorius, said, in a Catholic sense, that the nature of the Incarnate Word was one, and the Eutychians seized on the expression as favourable to them, in the same manner, Honorius saying that Christ had one will (that is, that he had not, like us, two opposite wills—one defective, the will of the flesh, and one correct, the will of the Spirit), the Monothelites availed themselves of it to defend their errors.

            We do not, by any means, deny that Honorius was in error, when he imposed silence on those who discussed the question of one or two wills in Christ, because when the matter in dispute is erroneous, it is only favouring error to impose silence. Wherever there is error it ought to be exposed and combated, and it was here that Honorius was wrong; but it is a fact beyond contradiction, that Honorius never fell into the Monothelite heresy, notwithstanding what heretical writers assert, and especially William Cave, who says it is labour in vain to try and defend him from his charge. The learned Noel Alexander clearly proves that it cannot be laid to his charge, and in answer to the great argument adduced by our adversaries, that in the Thirteenth Act of the Sixth Council it was declared that he was anathematized—replies that the Synod condemned Honorius, not because he formally embraced the heresy, but on account of the favour he showed the heretics, as Leo II. (Optimo Concilii Interpreter as N. Alex, calls him) writes to Constantine Pogonatus in his Epistle, requesting the confirmation of the Synod. In this letter Leo enumerates the heretics condemned, the fathers of the heresy, Theodore of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, successors in the See of Constantinople; he also anathematizes Honorius, not for embracing the error, but for permitting it to go on unmolested . . . He also writes to the Spanish bishops, and tells them that Theodore, Cyrus, and the others are condemned, together with Honorius, who did not, as befitted his Apostolical authority, extinguish the flame of heretical doctrine in the beginning, but cherished it by negligence. From these and several other sources, then, Noel Alexander proves that Honorius was not condemned by the Sixth Council as a heretic, but as a favourer of heretics, and for his negligence in putting them down, and that he was very properly condemned, for the favourers of heresy and the authors of it are both equally culpable. He adds that the common opinion of the Sorbonne was, that although Honorius, in his letters, may have written some erroneous opinions, still he only wrote them as a private doctor, and in no wise stained the purity of the faith of the Apostolic See; and his letters to Sergius, which we quoted in the last paragraph, prove how different his opinions were from those of the Monothelites.”

          • Freitas AJ

            Data venia to S. Alphonsus, but I disagree and don’t find his arguments sufficient to rebuke the critical analysis made by Mr. Johas.

            The thesis defended by these authors cited and by the Saint himself do not appear to recognize that the mitigated version of monothelism – very similar to a calvinist monergist vision of Christ – is the true root of the doctrinal dissimulation expressed by pope Honorius in his letters.

            And, by the way, this thesis do not appear to know that Sergius and all the condemned monothelists defended their heresies on the basis of the same arguments evoked by John IV for defending Honorius I of the condemnation of being heretic. If Honorius was not condemned on this basis, neither should be Sergius and others. Doubts about this can be solved just reading the letter from Sergius to Honorius, complaining about St. Sofronius.

  4. mikefanning

    From memory, as with Honorius, Liberius locked horns with Saint Athanasius and as I’ve heard this account told several times over it never took the tone that Athanasius was in an “accept and resist mindset.” Rather, he was dutifully supplying and standing firm on information provided by him to Liberius that Arianism was heresy. I’ve attended Society chapels since 1993 and have never “accepted and resisted” simultaneously anything regarding these occupants of the throne of St. Peter, since 1959.

    My main skillset is counter-intelligence and through its view, analyze and at times conclude various points that generally take clear notice that making the fatal mistake of dialoguing with the “romans” as they’re referred to is; can never end well. Yet Bishop Fellay persists relying on the directive to do so from the Archbishop. If Bp Fellay wanted to dialogue correctly (I despise that word) and in the tone the Archbishop was unquestionably support; he need to do nothing more than climb up into the pulpit as Athanasius did and identify the errors and error givers and exhort them to submit to proper canonical proceedings.

    No right thinking person can abide with dealing with the enemy for the sake of an accommodation, when your enemy, who occupies your “castle and all its fortresses.” The fortress is the Church structure and castle are all the Altars round the world that belong to Jesus Christ. As a consequence, driven by human nature, improperly applied priestly obligations, both filial and ordinary obedience, a rift has been created that choosing up sides is now driven by a sense of survival instincts rather than face being sent out into the streets a vagabond priest. That’s the current status of the effect within the SSPX both clergy and lay congregants. All created by a false hope, fueled by intelligence succumbed to imprudence.

  5. Sonia

    The Papa Stronsay Alpine Redemptorists defend the other favourite of the R&R to malign – Liberius – as keeping the Faith. How they can be in communion with an out and out Apostate these days is something preternatural, from a proper Catholic point of view.

    • Novus Ordo Watch

      For those who may have missed it, we have refuted the false claims made against Pope Liberius and St. Athanasius here:

      Let’s also recall that Pope Pius IX spoke about the matter in his encyclical “Quartus Supra”: “…the Arians falsely accused Liberius, also Our predecessor, to the Emperor Constantine, because Liberius refused to condemn St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and refused to support their heresy” (n. 16).

    • Sonia

      To clarify about the seemingly Traditional Redemptorists, what shocks is they call sedevacantists nasty, while refuting R&R by defending Liberius against the slanderous accusations of heresy, meanwhile transitioned (under Ratzinger) to full communion with an out and out antichrist? The defense of Liberius is a waste of time given that Bergoglio is their proxy for Christ on earth. The Novus Ordo is nuts…and not in a good way. I don’t think it’s nasty to notice this out loud.

  6. Millan

    Fr. Maciej Sieniatycki wrote in his manual “Apologetics, that is Fundamental Dogmatics” in 1932, (my translation from Polish):

    “[Honorius] was condemned by the VI Ecumenical Council as a heretic, condemnation that was approved by Leon II, not in the sense that he taught heresy in his letters, because as we have just seen in his letters to Sergius there was no heresy, but in the sense in which at that time this term included also those who for whatever reasons met heretics half-way.

    In this sense he was called heretic that as Leon II writes when approving council condemnation, “he didn’t extinguish flames of the heretical dogma which was appropriate to do by the apostolic authority, but by carelessness he fed them” (Ep. ad episcopat. Hispaniae). That the council didn’t think of Honorius as teaching heresy ex cathedra is apparent by the writing of pope Agatho directed to the mentioned council, where it is said “Roman [Apostolic] See has never wandered off the way of apostolic tradition by error” and the Church Fathers answered to the pope’s word, crying: “Peter is speaking through Agatho”. Therefore they could not condemn Honorius as a heretic in the true sense of the word because they would have put themselves in glaring contradiction to the words of Agatho which they have just adopted by acclamation.” source:

    Fr. Maciej Sieniatycki (1869–1949) made his name known in Polish theology with his university manuals: Zarys dogmatyki katolickiej (An Outline of Catholic Dogmatics) and Apologetyka czyli dogmatyka fundamentalna (Apologetics, that is Fundamental Dogmatics), in which he defined Polish terminology in dogmatic theology. His manuals were soon accepted in almost all of the theological departments in Poland.

  7. Dum Spiro Spero

    In historical analysis in general, it is very easy to make mistakes in interpretation, because one time is judged from a different one, and not all variables are taken into account.
    That is why it is very important in this subject to consider the authoritative opinions such as those of St. Bellarmine or St. Alphonsus Liguori. In addition, those views are closer to the time in question. For example, who knows more about Napoleon, Pius VI and Pius VII, or us? Maybe we can know some detail that they did not, but they had a lot of information that over time has been lost.
    San Bellarmino never labeled Honorio as an antipope, that is very important.
    Finally, attempting to compare the apparent lack of precision and completeness in Honorio’s language, with the claims of the CVII literally contrary to the previous teaching, is ridiculous and inappropriate.
    It is also evident that Honorio’s letter required clarification, and can not be considered as the teaching to the whole Church. He didn’t impose hs opinion to the whole Church.
    Consider, on the other hand, only the question of the Novus Ordo Missae. There is simply no such thing in the history of the Church because of its gravity.

    • Novus Ordo Watch

      Very good points! Besides, we have to keep in mind also that Pope Honorius’ letters to Sergius did not become public until after his death, so, even if they had contained heresy, they would not have made him a public heretic.

  8. João Crisóstomo

    Even though he was condemned in this way, did Honorio suffer any post-life sanction? Would that keep you from your salvation?

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