Critic of Bossuet and Historian of the Protestant Churches: The Position of Dissenters in an Absolute Monarchy

  • Gerald Cerny
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 107)


Prior to the actual Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and parallel to the accelerating monarchical campaign to subvert the edict granted by Henri IV, the religious climate of opinion in France abounded with an increasingly intensified Roman Catholic-Protestant controversy.1 The dispute centered on the many theological differences that led Protestants to separate from the Catholic Church and to create independent churches. A specific corollary of that contention touched upon the possible roles of both parties in the French religious wars between 1560–1629 and upon the validity of the settlement promulgated in the Edict of Nantes. The debate assumed diverse forms, from uncompromising and outrageous polemics to well-meaning but misguided attempts to pacify and even to unify the two divergent faiths.2 All contenders, however, employed some variant of the historical argument3 to justify specific points in the titanic disputation. Yet theological altercation was never absent in the controversy and, indeed, tended at times to outweigh the detachment implicit in historical evaluation and judgment.


Ninth Century Protestant Work Ethic Christian Religion Worship Service Protestant Church 
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  1. 1.
    The principal bibliographical guide is now Louis Desgraves, ed., Répertoire des ouvrages de controverse entre Catholiques et Protestants en France (1598–1685), 2 vols. (Geneva, 1984). A total of 7, 171 items are identified. For a French Roman Catholic interpretation of the controversy prior to 1685, see Bernard Devismes, Unité religieuse, unité nationale. De Vévangélisme à la révocation de VEdit de Nantes(Paris, 1946); Gustave Thils, Les notes de VEglise dans l’apologétique catholique depuis la Réforme(Gembloux, 1937); Henri Busson, La religion des classiques, 1660–1685(Paris, 1948); Alfred Rébelliau, Bossuet historien du protestantisme. Etude sur l’Histoire des Variations et sur la controverse entre les protestants et les catholiques au XVIIe siècle(Paris 1891), 4-23, 60-65; Georges Tavard, La tradition au XVIIe siècle en France et en Angleterre(Paris, 1969), 55-166. For a Protestant treatment of the question, see Ariste Viguié, Histoire de l’apologétique dans l’Eglise réformée française(Paris and Geneva, 1858); André Paul, l’Unité chrétienne. Schismes et rapprochements(Paris, 1930); René Voeltzel, Vraie et fausse Eglise selon les théologiens protestants du XVIIe siècle(Paris, 1955); “La place de la Réforme dans les controverses entre catholiques et protestants du XVIIe siècle, ” in Philippe Joutard, ed., Historiographie de la Réforme(Paris, Neuchâtel, and Montréal, 1977), 7-80, 108-23, for reports by Thérèse Moyne, Bernard Dompnier, Elisabeth Labrousse, Jean-Robert Armogathe, Miriam Yardeni, and Jacques Solé. See esp. Jacques Solà, “Au temps de l’Edit de Nantes: le débat entre protestants et catholiques français de 1598 à 1685” (Thèse d’Etat, lUniversité de Lyon II, 1981) for the best scholarly account and permanent intellectual ramifications of the controversy. See also Elisabeth Israels Perry, From Theology to History: French Religious Controversy and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes(The Hague, 1973), for the period 1671-91, but from the perspective only of the historical treatment of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, its leaders, and the French religious wars that ensued from 1560-98.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, Pasteur Isaac d’Huisseau’s project, La Reünion du Christianisme, ou La Manière de rejoindre tous les Chrestiens sous une seule Confession de foy(Saumur [1670]). Cf.Richard Stauffer, L’affaire d’Huisseau, une controverse protestante au sujet de la “Réunion des Chrétiens” (1670–1671)(Paris, 1969).Google Scholar
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    See esp. Eduard Fueter, Geschichte der Neuren Historiographie(Munich and Berlin, 1911), 246-330; Perry, From Theology to History, l48-72.Google Scholar
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    These expressive terms, which I have deliberately not translated into English, were employed by Jacques Basnage in the italicized form in his Histoire de la Religion des Eglises réformées, 2 vols. (Rotterdam, 1690), I, EpÎtre.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    All references are to the original 1688 edition issued by the publishing house Mabre-Cramoisy (hereafter cited as HVEP).For the truly vast literature by and about Bossuet, see Cioranescu, Bibliographie de la littérature française du XVIIe siècle, II, 405-37.Google Scholar
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    See Aimé Martimort, Le Gallicanisme de Bossuet(Paris, 1953); Jean Orcibal, Louis XIV et les protestants(Paris, 1951); Jacques Truchet, Politique de Bossuet(Paris, 1966).Google Scholar
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    Most of the works cited supra, ln. 1, also pertain to the new controversy provoked by the Histoire des Variations des Eglises protestantes.Although Rébelliau, Bossuet historien du protestantisme, lmade a remarkable scholarly contribution by utilizing Bossuet’s original notes to write the 1688 work, he was too much a late nineteenth-century Roman Catholic to remain impartial. Rébelliau’s study, however, remains the only publication exclusively and exhaustively devoted to Bossuet’s HVEP.See also Léon Crouslé, Bossuet et le protestantisme. Etude historique(Paris, 1901); P. Beuzart, “Petite contribution aux sources de YHistoire des Variationsde Bossuet, ” BSHPF, lXCV (1946), 157-63; R. Struman, “La perpétuité de la foi dans la controverse Bossuet-Jurieu, 1686-1691, ” Revue d’Histoire ecclésiastique(1941), 145-89; Tavard, La tradition au XVIIe siècle, l166-76. For a fresh interpretation of Bossuet on the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, its leaders, and the civil wars following the reign of Henri II, see Perry, From Theology to History, l71-72, 77-80, 113-19. 122, 125-26, 148-50. The best modern analysis of Bossuet, however, is by Antoine Adam, Histoire de la littérature française au XVIIe siècle, l5 vols. (Paris, 1948-56), V, 85-130.Google Scholar
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    Rébelliau, Bossuet historien du protestantisme, l321-22, listed Bossuet’s detractors and offered a complete bibliography of their works; but he made no systematic effort to analyse his hero’s opponents.Google Scholar
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    Pierre Jurieu, Jacques Basnage, Pierre Allix, Michel Le Vassor, Jacques Lenfant, Isaac Beausobre, Jean Aymon, and Jean-Baptiste Renouet (ibid., 312-17).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 317-19. His fellow countryman, William Wake, who was first bishop of Lincoln and then archbishop of Canterbury, also became interested in French ecclesiastical affairs; but Wake was exclusively preoccupied with Gallican issues.Google Scholar
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    Veit L. von Seckendorf; Christof M. Pfaff; Johann May, or Mayus; Johann Brunsmann; and Daniel Schulz, or Scultetus (ibid., 321-22).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 314, 331. Contrary to the original context in which the controversy took place, Perry devotes scant attention to Basnage’s preponderant historical and theological refutation of Bossuet’s HVEP (From Theology to History, l20 n. 24, 67-68, 86-88, 131 n. 60, 134-35, 137, 185).Google Scholar
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    (Paris, 1691), 2nd ed. (Paris, 1727) (hereafter cited as DHV).Bossuet also composed six counter-refutations to Pierre Jurieu’s Lettres Pastorales addressées aux fidèles de France, qui gémissent sous la captivité de Babylon(Rotterdam, 1686-89), which were collectively entitled Six avertissemens aux Protestons sur les lettres du ministre Jurieu, contre l’Histoire des Variations(Paris, 1689-91).Google Scholar
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    HVEP, II, i.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., I, ii. Bossuet’s uniqueness rested on his exclusive use of Protestant sources in writing his HVEP.Google Scholar
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    Bossuet wrote an entire section on Melanchthon’s anguish over the rise of sects, their anarchy, and their seditions (ibid., I, 234-87).Google Scholar
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    On this central issue that gave rise to the controversy, see Henri Naef, La Conjuration d’Amboise et Genève(Geneva and Paris, 1922); Robert M. Kingdon, Geneva and the Coming of the Wars of Religion in France, 1555–1563(Geneva, 1956), 68-78; Nicola M. Sutherland, “Calvinism and the Conspiracy of Amboise, ” History, 47 (1962), 111-38. Modern scholarship affirms that Jean Calvin opposed the plot, but that his opposition did not deter the participants, who included French Huguenot pastors.Google Scholar
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    Bossuet’s charge led Jean Aymon to publish Tous les Synodes nationaux des Eglises Réformées de France: auxquels on a joint des Mandemens roīaux, et plusieurs Lettres politiques…, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1710); reissued in 1736.Google Scholar
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    DHV, l5-11. Bossuet charged that “l’hérétique n’a rien à craindre dans les états protestant” (ibid., 11).Google Scholar
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    Bossuet took issue with Basnage over his treatment of the Conspiracy of Amboise (ibid., 51-70). He also criticized Burnet’s discussion of the Great Rebellion in England (ibid., 126-50). Bossuet also refuted Basnage’s treatment of the problem of Luther’s subversion of German public order (ibid., 150-85).Google Scholar
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    Bossuet’s accusations, although naive, had some plausibility, at least in the minds of seventeenth-century individuals who looked upon the Monarchomaques and Cromwellians with horror. In the instance of Turenne, Charles II, and others, this was a key factor in their conversion to Roman Catholicism.Google Scholar
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    See Pierre Féret, Le Cardinal Du Perron, orateur, controversiste et écrivain. Etude historique et critique(Paris, 1877).Google Scholar
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    See lists of works by the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld under “Perpétuité de la foi” in Cioranescu, Bibliographie de la littérature française du XVIIe siècle, II, 227, and “Protestants, ” ibid., I, 232-33; also the two works by his Jansenist collaborator, Pierre Nicole, Préjugez légitimes contre les calvinistes(Paris, 1671), and idem, Les prétendus réformez convaincus de schisme.… (Paris, 1684).Google Scholar
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    HOS(August 1688), art. iv, 453-76, reviewed vol. I; ibid.(September 1688), art. ix, 74-99, reviewed vol. II. It is Elisabeth Labrousse’s view that the reviewer in question was Henri Basnage 4e Beau val.Google Scholar
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    Rébelliau, Bossuet historien du protestantisme, l331; Perry, From Theology to History, l68.Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to V. Minutoli, October 6, 1689, in Bayle, OD, lIV, 637.Google Scholar
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    (Rotterdam, 1690) (hereafter cited as HRER[1690]).Google Scholar
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    Art. ix, 214-39.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Jean Claude, pastor of the Reformed Church in Charenton (Paris) from 1666 until forced to go into exile in 1685, was regarded as the spokesperson for French Protestantism. He was the author of the learned and voluminous Défense de la réformation contre le livre intitulé Préjugez légitimes contre les calvinistes(Rouen, 1673), which he wrote against the Jansenist Pierre Nicole. Claude’s Défense de la réformationwas reprinted in Holland in 1682 and again in 1683. It was translated into English and published in London in 1683. It enjoyed further reprintings in 1745 (Amsterdam), 1815 (London), and 1844 (Amsterdam). Claude’s death in 1687 in Holland left a telling void in the leadership of French Protestantism. See Nicéron, Mémoires, lIV, 381-92; Haag, FP, lIII, 473-81; Cioranescu, Bibliographie de la littérature française du XVIIIe siècle, II, 575-77; [Abel Rodolphe de Ladevèze], Abrégé de la vie de Mr. Claude(Amsterdam, 1687).Google Scholar
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    A letter to Mr. Thevenot Containing a Censure of Mr. Le Grand’s History of King Henry the Eighth’s Divorce: to which is added a Censure of Mr. de Meaux’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches(London, 1689); trans, into French under the title Critique de l’“Histoire des variations des églises protestantes” par M. de Meaux oú il est parlé de l’église anglicane avec quelques réflexions sur l’“Histoire du divorce de Henri VIII” par Mr. Le Grand(Amsterdam, 1689).Google Scholar
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    Basnage’s Epîtreto Gilbert Burnet ran to four pages at the head of HRER(1690).Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to V. Minutoli, February 18, 1692, in Bayle, OD, lIV, 668.Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to V. Minutoli, August 28, 1692, ibid., IV, 672.Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to G. de Bruguière, September 10, 1693, ibid., I:ii, 169.Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to D. de Larroque, August 13, 1694, in Bayle, CCI, l91.Google Scholar
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    P. Bayle to M. Marais, October 2, 1698, ibid., IV, 769.Google Scholar
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    Among the statements made by the author in praise of the States of Holland and West-Friesland are the following: “La vérité s’enseigne paisiblement dans ces lieux; l’idolatrie n’ose y lever publiquement la tête, & la superstition y est muette.” “Vous êtes CET ISRAEL AU MILIEU DUQUEL IL N’Y A PAS DE MENDIANT.” “Vous ne devez douter.…que ce nombre d’exilez que Vous recueillez aujourd’hui avec tant de compassion, ne serve à l’affermissement & à la gloire de l’Etat. Et en continuant à répandre sur eux abondamment Vos charitez, Vous ouvrerez dans le ciel une source de benedictions pour la République, pour Vos personnes, & pour Votre postérité.” (ibid., I, Epître Dédicatoiré).Google Scholar
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    See Perry, From Theology to History, l25-47, for a discussion of the sources used by Catholic and Reformed historians and polemicists in the debate between the years 1671-91. For their principles of historical writing, see ibid., 48-72. Basnage exercised greater scholarly discrimination than his contemporaries in his use of documentary sources and in his writing of history.Google Scholar
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    3 vols. (Delft, 1701) (hereafter cited as TPFL).The authenticity of Basnage’s authorship of the TPFLis attested by P. Bayle to J. Bruguière de Naudis, February 17, 1700, in Bayle, OD, lI:ii, 188. The work was not reviewed in the Histoire des Ouvrages des Savans.Bossuet replied to Basnage’s TPFL, land Basnage retorted with a 56 pp. Défense du Traité des préjugez faux & légitimes; ou Réponse à la seconde Instruction Pastorale de Mr. Bossuet Evêque de Meaux(Delft, 1703). This brief work was reviewed in the Histoire des Ouvrages des Savans(November 1702), art. vii, 496-506. Both Le Vier, “Eloge historique de M. Basnage, ” xii, and Haag, FP, lII, 12, cite a copy of Basnage’s reply to Bossuet.Google Scholar
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    5 vols. (Rotterdam, 1721) (hereafter cited as HRER[1721]).Google Scholar
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    2 vols. (Rotterdam, 1725) (hereafter cited as HRER[1725]). The work was posthumously dedicated to Corneille Gerard Fagel of the Dutch family whose members held the offices of grand pensionary and greffier.Google Scholar
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    For Basnage’s motives and his critique of Bossuet’s concept of variations, see HRER(1690), I, Préface; HEDJC(1699), I, i-vi; HRER(1721), I, 1-14; HRER(1725), I:ii, 3-13.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Bossuet began to gather documentation for the writing of HVEPsince 1680. Rébelliau, Bossuet historien du protestantisme, l145-48, estimated that, if interruptions are taken into consideration, Bossuet must have worked on the HVEPfor a period of four years.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Maimbourg’s contentious Histoire du calvinismeprovoked numerous French Protestant rejoinders. Two formidable replies were written by [Pierre Bayle], Critique générale de l’Histoire du calvinisme de M. Maimbourg(Villefranche [Amsterdam], 1682), and by [Pierre Jurieu], Histoire du calvinisme & celle du papisme mises en parellèle: ou apologie pour les réformateurs, pour la réformation, & pour les Réformez, divisée en quatre parties; contre un libelle intitulé l’Histoire du calvinisme par M. Maimbourg(Rotterdam, 1683). Other noteworthy retorts were penned by Jean Rou, Remarques sur l’Histoire du calvinisme de M. Maimbourg(The Hague, 1682); by [Jean-Baptiste de Rocoles], Histoire véritable du calvinisme ou mémoires historiques touchant la réformation opposés à l’Histoire du calvinisme de Maimbourg(Amsterdam, 1683); by [Gédéon Flournois], Les entretiens des Voyageurs sur la mer, l 2 vols. (Cologne [Rotterdam?], 1683); and by [Alexandre Vignes], Entretiens de Philalèthe et de Philarène.…(Cologne [Rotterdam?], 1684). See Perry, From Theology to History, l12-14, and passim;Labrousse, Pierre Bayle, II, 180-82, 191-94; idem, Pierre Bayle, lII, 35; Knetsch, Pierre Jurieu, l161-72.Google Scholar
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    HRER(1690), I, Préface.Google Scholar
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    Loc.cit.See also Burnet: “En un mot nous sommes hommes, nous n’avons point de honte d’augmenter en connaissances, ni de rejetter l’erreur aussi-tôt que nous la découvrons” (Critique de l’“Histoire des variations des églises protestantes, ”7-8).Google Scholar
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    HEDJC(1699), I, 1; also HRER(1725), I:i, 1.Google Scholar
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    HEDJC (1699), II, 1.Google Scholar
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    Basnage employed the analogy that if one wanted to know the laws of a particular country, all that one had to do was to consult its law codes (HRER[1725], I:i, 3).Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    In all likelihood, Basnage’s death in 1723 prevented him from completing his project treatment of eighth-century Christianity.Google Scholar
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    See Pontien Polman, L’élément historique dans la controverse religieuse du XVIe siècle(Gembloux), 1932).Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    HRER(1725), I:ii, 87.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., I:ii, 149-329. Pierre Allix, in exile in England, also addressed the same problem; see his Remarks upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of the Albigenses(London, 1692).Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    HRER(1725), I:ii, 329-85. Two other contemporary French Huguenot treatments of the same question were written by Pierre Allix, Some Remarks upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont(London, 1690), and by Pierre Boyer, Abrégé de l’histoire des Vaudois.…(The Hague, 1691).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., II, 143-201. In this brief section, Basnage merely replied to issues specifically raised by Bossuet in his HVEP.He deferred to other Protestant writers, chiefly Pierre Jurieu, who had already made extensive responses to Maimbourg’s political indictment of Calvinism. Basnage’s motivation may have been, in part, his reluctance to discuss Protestant participation in the sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century wars of religion (see Elisabeth Labrousse, “The Wars of Religion in Seventeenth-Century Huguenot Thought, ” in Alfred Soman, ed., The Massacre of St. Bartholomew: Reappraisals and Documents[The Hague, 1974], 243-51).Google Scholar
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    The revolt of the French Calvinist Camisards in the Cévennes region of France undermined Basnage’s argument. But in all fairness to Basnage, it should be stated that he opposed the revolt and quarrelled with Jurieu because the latter supported it.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Bossuet’s HVEPwent through four printings between 1688-91. The 2nd ed. was reprinted twelve separate times during the eighteenth century and six times during the nineteenth century. It was also translated into Latin, Italian, German, English, and Spanish.Google Scholar
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    French Roman Catholics enthusiastically greeted the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. At a later date, however, perhaps after the passage of ten years, the most perceptive among them began to wonder if the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes had not been a political blunder. Bossuet himself came to doubt the wisdom of forcing former Huguenots into perfunctory conformity in line with the Catholic Church.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht. 1987

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  • Gerald Cerny

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