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Publican , in the Gospels, is derived from the publicanus of the Vulgate, and signifies a member or employee of the Roman financial companies who farmed the taxes. From the time of the Republic the Roman State relieved itself of the trouble of collecting the taxes in the provinces by putting up the taxes of each in a lump sum to auction. The highest bidder received the authorization to extort the sum from the province in question. Such a system afforded ample opportunity for rapacious exactions on the part of the company and its officials, and the abuses were often intolerable. On account of these, and more, perhaps, because of the natural though impotent Jewish hatred of the Roman supremacy, those of the Jews who found it profitable thus to serve the foreign rulers were objects of execration to their countrymen. In the Gospel narrative we find them as a class habitually coupled with "sinners" and the " heathen ". The attitude of Christ towards this, as well as other despised classes, was that of an uplifting sympathy. One great reproach cast upon Him by His enemies, the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, was His friendship for, and association with publicans and sinners ; and consistently with this conduct it pleased Him to choose as one of the twelve Apostles Levi or Matthew the Publican ( Matthew 9:9 ).


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The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

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Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

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Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

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