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§ 182. Irenaeus

Editions of his Works.

S. Irenaei Episcopi Lugdun. Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. A. Stieren. Lips. 1853, 2 vols. The second volume contains the Prolegomena of older editors, and the disputations of Maffei and Pfaff on the Fragments of Irenaeus. It really supersedes all older ed., but not the later one of Harvey.

S. Irenaei libros quinque adversus Haereses edidit W. Wigan Harvey. Cambr. 1857, in 2 vols. Based upon a new and careful collation of the Cod. Claromontanus and Arundel, and embodying the original Greek portions preserved in the Philosoph. of Hippolytus, the newly discovered Syriac and Armenian fragments, and learned Prolegomena.

Older editions by Erasmus, Basel 1526 (from three Latin MSS. since lost, repeated 1528, 1534); Gallasius, Gen. 1570 (with the use of the Gr. text in Epiphan.); Grynaeus, Bas. 1571 (worthless); Fevardentius (Feuardent), Paris 1575, improved ed. Col. 1596, and often; Grabe, Oxf. 1702; and above all Massuet, Par. 1710, Ven. 1734, 2 vols. fol., and again in Migne’s "Patrol. Graeco-Lat." , Tom. VII. Par. 1857 (the Bened. ed., the best of the older, based on three MSS., with ample Proleg. and 3 Dissertations).

English translation by A. Roberts and W. H. Rambaut, 2 vols., in the "Ante-Nicene Library," Edinb. 1868. Another by John Keble, ed. by Dr. Pusey, for the Oxford "Library of the Fathers," 1872.

Biographical and Critical.

Ren. Massuet (R.C.): Dissertationes in Irenaei libros (de hereticis, de Irenaei vita, gestis et scriptis, de Ir. doctrina) prefixed to his edition of the Opera, and reprinted in Stieren and Migne. Also the Proleg. of Harvey, on Gnosticism, and the Life and Writings of Iren.

H. Dodwell: Dissert. in Iren. Oxon. 1689.

Tillemont: Mêmoirs, etc. III. 77–99.

Deyling: Irenaeus, evangelicae veritatis confessor ac testis. Lips. 1721. (Against Massuet.)

Stieren: Art. Irenaeus in "Ersch and Gruber’s Encykl." IInd sect. Vol. xxiii. 357–386.

J. Beaven: Life and Writings of Irenaeus. Lond. 1841.

J. M. Prat (R.C.):Histoire de St. Irenée. Lyon and Paris 1843.

L. Duncker: Des heil. IrenaeusChristologie. Gött. 1843. Very, valuable.

K. Graul: Die Christliche Kirche an der Schwelle des Irenaeischen Zeitalters. Leipz. 1860. (168 pages.) Introduction to a biography which never appeared.

Ch. E. Freppel (bishop of Angers, since 1869): Saint Irénée et l’éloquence chrétienne dans la Gaule aux deux premiers siècles. Par. 1861.

G. Schneemann: Sancti Irenaei de ecclesiae Romanae principatu testimonium. Freib. i. Br. 1870.

Böhringer: Die Kirche Christi und ihre Zeugen, vol. II. new ed. 1873.

Heinrich Ziegler: Irenaeusder Bischof von Lyon. Berlin 1871. (320 p.)

R. A. Lipsius: Die Zeit des lrenaeus von Lyon und die Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, in Sybel’s "Histor. Zeitschrift." München 1872, p. 241 sqq. See his later art. below.

A. Guilloud: St. Irenée et son temps. Lyon 1876.

Bp. Lightfoot: The Churches of Gaul, in the "Contemporary Review" for Aug. 1876.

C. J. H. Ropes: Irenaeus of Lyons, in the Andover "Bibliotheca Sacra" for April 1877, p. 284–334. A learned discussion of the nationality of Irenaeus (against Harvey).

J. Quarry: Irenaeus; his testimony to early Conceptions of Christianity. In the "British Quarterly Review" for 1879, July and Oct.

Renan: Marc Aurèle. Paris 1882, p. 336–344.

TH. Zahn: art. Iren. in HerZog2, VII. 129–140 (abridged in Schaff-Herzog), chiefly chronological; and R. A. Lipsius in Smith and Wace III. 253–279. Both these articles are very important; that of Lipsius is fuller.

Comp. also the Ch. Hist. of Neander, and Baur, and the Patrol. of Möhler, and Alzog.

Special doctrines and relations of Irenaeus have been discussed by Baur, Dorner, Thiersch, Höfling, Hopfenmiller, Körber, Ritschl, Kirchner, Zahn, Harnack, Leimbach, Reville, Hackenschmidt. See the Lit. in Zahn’s art. in Herzog2.

A full and satisfactory monograph of Irenaeus and his age is still a desideratum.

Almost simultaneously with the apology against false religions without arose the polemic literature against the heresies, or various forms of pseudo-Christianity, especially the Gnostic; and upon this was formed the dogmatic theology of the church. At the head of the old catholic controversialists stand Irenaeus and his disciple Hippolytus, both of Greek education, but both belonging, in their ecclesiastical relations and labors, to the West.

Asia Minor, the scene of the last labors of St. John, produced a luminous succession of divines and confessors who in the first three quarters of the second century reflected the light of the setting sun of the apostolic age, and may be called the pupils of St. John. Among them were Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias of Hierapolis, Apolinarius of Hierapolis, Melito of Sardis, and others less known but honorably mentioned in the letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to bishop Victor of Rome (A. D. 190).

The last and greatest representative of this school is Irenaeus, the first among the fathers properly so called, and one of the chief architects of the Catholic system of doctrine.

I. Life and Character. Little is known of Irenaeus except what we may infer from his writings. He sprang from Asia Minor, probably from Smyrna, where he spent his youth.13921392    Harvey derives from the alleged familiarity of Irenaeus with Hebrew and the Syriac Peshito the conclusion that he was a Syrian, but Ropes denies the premise and defends the usual view of his Greek nationality. See also Caspari, Quellen zur Gesch. des Taufsymb III. 343 sq.392 He was born between A.D. 115 and 125.13931393    The change of Polycarp’s martyrdom from 166 to 155 necessitates a corresponding change in the chronology of Irenaeus, his pupil, who moreover says that the Apocalypse of John was written at the end of Domitian’s reign (d. 96), "almost within our age" (σχεδὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ἡμετέρας γενεᾶς, Adv. Haer. v. 30, 3). Zahn (in Herzog) decides for 115, Lipsius (in Smith and Wace) for 130 or 125, as the date of his birth. Dodwell favored the year 97 or 98; Grabe 108, Tillemont and Lightfoot 120, Leimbach, Hilgenfeld, and Ropes 126, Oscar von Gebhardt 126-130, Harvey 130, Massuet, Dupin, Böhringer, Kling 140 (quite too late), Ziegler 142-147 (impossible). The late date is derived from a mistaken understanding of the reference to the old age of Polycarp (πάνυ γηραλέοςbut this, as Zahn and Lightfoot remark, refers to the time of his martyrdom, not the time of his acquaintance with Irenaeus), and from the assumption of the wrong date of his martyrdom (166 instead of 155 or 156). The term πρώτη ἡλικία, "first age, " which Irenaeus uses of the time of his acquaintance with Polycarp (III. 3, § 4; comp. Euseb. H. E. IV. 14), admits of an extension from boyhood to youth and early manhood; for Irenaeus counts five ages of a man’s life (Adv. Haer I. 22, § 4; 24, § 4—infans, parvullus, puer, juvenis, senior), and includes the thirtieth year in the youth, by calling Christ a juvenis at the time of his baptism. Hence Zahn and Lipsius conclude that the πρώτη ἡλικίαof Irenaeus’s connection with Polycarp is not the age of childhood, but of early young-manhood."Als junger Mann, " says Zahn."etwa zwischen dem 18. und 35. Lebensjahre, will Ir. sich des Umqangs mit Pol erfreut haben." Another hint is given in the letter of Iren. to Florinus, in which be reminds him of their mutual acquaintance with Polycarp in lower Asia in their youth when Florinus was at "the royal court" (αὐλὴ βασιλική). Lightfoot conjectures that this means by anticipation the court of Antoninus Pius, when he was proconsul of Asia Minor, a.d. 136, two years before he ascended the imperial throne (Waddington, Fastes des provinces Asiatiques, p. 714). But Zahn reasserts the more natural explanation of Dodwell, that the court of Emperor Hadrian is meant, who twice visited Asia Minor as emperor between the years 122 and 130.393 He enjoyed the instruction of the venerable Polycarp of Smyrna, the pupil of John, and of other "Elders," who were mediate or immediate disciples of the apostles. The spirit of his preceptor passed over to him. "What I heard from him" says he, "that wrote I not on paper, but in my heart, and by the grace of God I constantly bring it afresh to mind." Perhaps he also accompanied Polycarp on his journey to Rome in connexion with the Easter controversy (154). He went as a missionary to Southern Gaul which seems to have derived her Christianity from Asia Minor. During the persecution in Lugdunum and Vienne under Marcus Aurelius (177), he was a presbyter there and witnessed the horrible cruelties which the infuriated heathen populace practiced upon his brethren.13941394    See above, § 20, p. 55 sq.394 The aged and venerable bishop, Pothinus, fell a victim, and the presbyter took the post of danger, but was spared for important work.

He was sent by the Gallican confessors to the Roman bishop Eleutherus (who ruled a.d. 177–190), as a mediator in the Montanistic disputes.13951395    Either during, or after the persecution. Euseb. V. S.; Jerome, De Vir. ill c. 35.395

After the martyrdom of Pothinus he was elected bishop of Lyons (178), and labored there with zeal and success, by tongue and pen, for the restoration of the heavily visited church, for the spread of Christianity in Gaul, and for the defence and development of its doctrines. He thus combined a vast missionary and literary activity. If we are to trust the account of Gregory of Tours, he converted almost the whole population of Lyons and sent notable missionaries to other parts of pagan France.

After the year 190 we lose sight of Irenaeus. Jerome speaks of him as having flourished in the reign of Commodus, i.e., between 180 and 192. He is reported by later tradition (since the fourth or fifth century) to have died a martyr in the persecution under Septimus Severus, a.d. 202, but the silence of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and Epiphanius makes this point extremely doubtful. He was buried under the altar of the church of St. John in Lyons.13961396    "The story that his bones were dug up and thrown into the street by the Calvinists in 1562 has been abundantly refuted." Encycl. Brit., ninth ed XIII. 273.396 This city became again famous in church history in the twelfth century as the birthplace of the Waldensian martyr church, the Pauperes de Lugduno.

II. His Character and Position. Irenaeus is the leading representative of catholic Christianity in the last quarter of the second century, the champion of orthodoxy against Gnostic heresy, and the mediator between the Eastern and Western churches. He united a learned Greek education and philosophical penetration with practical wisdom and moderation. He is neither very original nor brilliant, but eminently sound and judicious. His individuality is not strongly marked, but almost lost in his catholicity. He modestly disclaims elegance and eloquence, and says that he had to struggle in his daily administrations with the barbarous Celtic dialect of Southern Gaul; but he nevertheless handles the Greek with great skill on the most abstruse subjects.13971397    This is evident from the very passage in which he makes that apology to his friend (Adv. Haer., Pref. § 3): "Thou wilt not require from me, who dwell among the Celts (ἐν Κελτοῖς), and am accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous dialect (βάρβαρον διάλεκτον)any skill in discourse which I have not learned, nor any power of composition which I have not practised, nor any beauty of style nor persuasiveness of which I know nothing. But thou wilt accept lovingly what I write lovingly to thee in simplicity, truthfully, and in my own way (ἁπλῶς καὶ ἀληθῶς καὶ ἰδιωτικῶς); whilst thou thyself (as being more competent than I am) wilt expand those ideas of which I send thee, as it were, only the seeds and principles (σπέρματα καὶ ἀρχάς); and in the comprehensiveness of thine understanding, wilt develop to their full extent the points on which I briefly touch, so as to set with power before thy companions those things which I have uttered in weakness."Jerome praises the style of Irenaeus as "doctissmus et eloquentissimus," and Massuet (Diss. II. § 51) adds that his " Greek text as far as preserved, is elegant, polished, and grave."397 He is familiar with Greek poets (Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Sophocles) and philosophers (Thales, Pythagoras, Plato), whom he occasionally cites. He is perfectly at home in the Greek Bible and in the early Christian writers, as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Papias, Ignatius, Hermas, Justin M., and Tatian.13981398    Harvey claims for him also Hebrew and Syriac scholarship; but this is disputed.398 His position gives him additional weight, for he is linked by two long lives, that of his teacher and grand-teacher, to the fountain head of Christianity. We plainly trace in him the influence of the spirit of Polycarp and John. "The true way to God," says he, in opposition to the false Gnosis, "is love. It is better to be willing to know nothing but Jesus Christ the crucified, than to fall into ungodliness through over-curious questions and paltry subtleties." We may trace in him also the strong influence of the anthropology and soteriology of Paul. But he makes more account than either John or Paul of the outward visible church, the episcopal succession, and the sacraments; and his whole conception of Christianity is predominantly legalistic. Herein we see the catholic churchliness which so strongly set in during the second century.

Irenaeus is an enemy of all error and schism, and, on the whole, the most orthodox of the ante-Nicene fathers.13991399    Bishop Lightfoot ("Contemp. Rev." May, 1875, p. 827) says that Irenaeus If on all the most important points conforms to the standard which has satisfied the Christian church ever since."Renan (p. 341) calls him "le modèle de l’homme ecclésiastique accompli."399 We must, however, except his eschatology. Here, with Papias and most of his contemporaries, be maintains the pre-millennarian views which were subsequently abandoned as Jewish dreams by the catholic church. While laboring hard for the spread and defense of the church on earth, he is still "gazing up into heaven," like the men of Galilee, anxiously waiting for the return of the Lord and the establishment of his kingdom. He is also strangely mistaken about the age of Jesus from a false inference of the question of the Jews, John 8:57.

Irenaeus is the first among patristic writers who makes full use of the New Testament. The Apostolic Fathers reëcho the oral traditions; the Apologists are content with quoting the Old Testament prophets and the Lord’s own words in the Gospels as proof of divine revelation; but Irenaeus showed the unity of the Old and New Testaments in opposition to the Gnostic separation, and made use of the four Gospels and nearly all Epistles in opposition to the mutilated canon of Marcion.14001400    See the long list of his Scripture quotations in Stieren, I. 996-1005, and the works on the Canon of the N. T.400

With all his zeal for pure and sound doctrine, Irenaeus was liberal towards subordinate differences, and remonstrated with the bishop of Rome for his unapostolic efforts to force an outward uniformity in respect to the time and manner of celebrating Easter.14011401    Comp. § 62, p. 217 sq.401 We may almost call him a forerunner of Gallicanism in its protest against ultramontane despotism. "The apostles have ordained," says he in the third fragment, which appears to refer to that controversy, "that we make conscience with no one of food and drink, or of particular feasts, new moons, and sabbaths. Whence, then, controversies; whence schisms? We keep feasts but with the leaven of wickedness and deceit, rending asunder the church of God, and we observe the outward, to the neglect of the higher, faith and love." He showed the same moderation in the Montanistic troubles. He was true to his name Peaceful ( Gr. ) and to his spiritual ancestry.

III. His Writings. (1.) The most important work of Irenaeus is his Refutation of Gnosticism, in five books.14021402    Ἔλεγχος καὶ ἀνατροπὴ τῆς ψευδωνύμου γνώσεως (1 Tim. 6:20), i.e.A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge falsely so called; cited, since Jerome, under the simpler title: Adversus Haereses (πρὸς αἰρέσεις).The Greek original of the work, together with the five books of Hegesippus, was still in existence in the sixteenth century, and may yet be recovered. See Zahn in Brieger’s " Zeitschrift für K. Gesch."1877, p. 288-291. But so far we only have fragments of it preserved in Hippolytus (Philosophumena), Eusebius, Theodoret, and especially in Epiphanius (Haer. XXXl.c. 9-33). We have, however, the entire work in a slavishly literal translation into barbarous Latin, crowded with Grecisms, but for this very reason very valuable. Three MSS. of the Latin version survive, the oldest is the Codex Claromontanus of the tenth or eleventh century. This and the Arundel MS. are now in England (see a description in Harvey’s Preface, i. viii. sqq. with facsimiles). Besides, we have now fragments of a Syrian version, derived from the Nitrian MSS. of the British Museum, and fragments of an Armenian translation, published by Pitra in his Spicilegium Solesmense vol. I. (1852), both incorporated in Harvey’s edition, vol. II. 431-469. They agree closely with the Latin Version. An attempt to restore the Greek text from the Latin, for the better understanding of it, has been made on the first four chapters of the third book by H. W. J. Thiersch (" Stud. u. Kritiken," 1842). Semler’s objections to the genuineness have been so thoroughly refuted by Chr. G. F. Walch (De authentia libiorum Irenaei, 1774), that Möhler and Stieren might have spared themselves the trouble.402 It was composed during the pontificate of Eleutherus, that is between the years 177 and 190.14031403    Eleutherus is mentioned, III. 3, 3, as then occupying the see of Rome. Lipsius fixes the composition between a.d. 180 and 185, Harvey between 182 and 188 (L.CLVIII).403 It is at once the polemic theological masterpiece of the ante-Nicene age, and the richest mine of information respecting Gnosticism and the church doctrine of that age. It contains a complete system of Christian divinity, but enveloped in polemical smoke, which makes it very difficult and tedious reading. The work was written at the request of a friend who wished to be informed of the Valentinian heresy and to be furnished with arguments against it. Valentinus and Marcion had taught in Rome about a.d. 140, and their doctrines had spread to the south of France. The first book contains a minute exposition of the gorgeous speculations of Valentinus and a general view of the other Gnostic sects; the second an exposure of the unreasonableness and contradictions of these heresies; especially the notions of the Demiurge as distinct from the Creator, of the Aeons, the Pleroma and Kenoma, the emanations, the fall of Achamoth, the formation of the lower world of matter, the sufferings of the Sophia, the difference between the three classes of men, the Somatici, Psychici, and Pneumatici. The last three books refute Gnosticism from the Holy Scripture and Christian tradition which teach the same thing; for the same gospel which was first orally preached and transmitted was subsequently committed to writing and faithfully preserved in all the apostolic churches through the regular succession of the bishops and elders; and this apostolic tradition insures at the same time the correct interpretation of Scripture against heretical perversion. To the ever-shifting and contradictory opinions of the heretics Irenaeus opposes the unchanging faith of the catholic church which is based on the Scriptures and tradition, and compacted together by the episcopal organization. It is the same argument which Bellarmin, Bossuet, and Möhler use against divided and distracted Protestantism, but Protestantism differs as much from old Gnosticism as the New Testament from the apocryphal Gospels, and as sound, sober, practical sense differs from mystical and transcendental nonsense. The fifth book dwells on the resurrection of the body and the millennial kingdom. Irenaeus derived his information from the writings of Valentinus and Marcion and their disciples, and from Justin Martyr’s Syntagma.14041404    On the sources of the history, of heresies see especially the works of Lipsius, and Harnack, quoted on p. 443, and Harvey’s Preliminary Observations in vol. I.404

The interpretation of Scripture is generally sound and sober, and contrasts favorably with the fantastic distortions of the Gnostics. He had a glimpse of a theory of inspiration which does justice to the human factor. He attributes the irregularities of Paul’s style to his rapidity of discourse and the impetus of the Spirit which is in him.14051405    Adv. Haer. III. 7, § 2.405

(2.) The Epistle to Florinus, of which Eusebius has preserved an interesting and important fragment, treated On the Unity of God, and the Origin of Evil.14061406    Περὶ μοναρχίας ἣ περὶ τοῦ μὴ εἷναι τὸν Θεὸν ποιητὴν κακῶν. Euseb. H. E. V. 20, comp. ch. 15.406 It was written probably after the work against heresies, and as late as 190.14071407    Leimbach and Lightfoot regard the letter as one of the earliest writings of Irenaeus, but Lipsius (p. 263) puts it down to about a.d. 190 or after, on the ground of the Syriac fragment, from a letter of Irenaeus to Victor of Rome (190-202) concerning "Florinus, a presbyter and partisan of the error of Valentinus, who published an abominable book." See the fragment in Harvey, II. 457. Eusebius makes no mention of such a letter, but there is no good reason to doubt its genuineness.407 Florinus was an older friend and fellow-student of lrenaeus and for some time presbyter in the church of Rome, but was deposed on account of his apostasy to the Gnostic heresy. Irenaeus reminded him very touchingly of their common studies at the feet of the patriarchal Polycarp, when he held some position at the royal court (probably during Hadrian’s sojourn at Smyrna), and tried to bring him back to the faith of his youth, but we do not know with what effect.

(3.) On the Ogdoad14081408    Περὶ ὀγδοάδος. Euseb. V. 20.408 against the Valentinian system of Aeons, in which the number eight figures prominently with a mystic meaning. Eusebius says that it was written on account of Florinus, and that he found in it "a most delightful remark," as follows: "I adjure thee, whoever thou art, that transcribest this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by his gracious appearance, when he shall come to judge the quick and the dead, to compare what thou hast copied, and to correct it by this original manuscript, from which thou hast carefully transcribed. And that thou also copy this adjuration, and insert it in the copy." The carelessness of transcribers in those days is the chief cause of the variations in the text of the Greek Testament which abounded already in the second century. Irenaeus himself mentions a remarkable difference of reading in the mystic number of Antichrist (666 and 616), on which the historic interpretation of the book depends (Rev. 13:18).

(4.) A book On Schism, addressed to Blastus who was the head of the Roman Montanists and also a Quartodeciman.14091409    Περὶ σχίσματος. Also mentioned by Euseb. l. c. Comp. V. 14; Pseudo-Tertullian Adv. Haer. 22; and the Syriac fragment in Harvey II. 456; also the critical discussion of the subject and date by Lipsius, 264 sq.409 It referred probably to the Montanist troubles in a conciliatory spirit.

(5.) Eusebius mentions14101410    H E. V. 26.410 several other treatises which are entirely lost, as Against the Greeks (or On Knowledge), On Apostolic Preaching, a Book on Various Disputes,14111411    βιβλίον διαλέξεων διαφόρων. Harvey and Lipsius make this out to have been a collection of homilies on various texts of scripture.411 and on the Wisdom of Solomon. In the Syriac fragments some other lost works are mentioned.

(6.) Irenaeus is probably the author of that touching account of the persecution of 177, which the churches of Lyons and Vienne sent to the churches in Asia Minor and Phrygia, and which Eusebius has in great part preserved. He was an eyewitness of the cruel scene, yet his name is not mentioned, which would well agree with his modesty; the document breathes his mild Christian spirit, reveals his aversion to Gnosticism, his indulgence for Montanism, his expectation of the near approach of Antichrist. It is certainly one of the purest and most precious remains of ante-Nicene literature and fully equal, yea superior to the "Martyrdom of Polycarp," because free from superstitious relic-worship.14121412    Eusebius H. E. V. I and 2; also in Routh’s Reliquiae S. 1. 295 sqq., with notes. It has often been translated. Comp. on this document the full discussion of Donaldson, III. 250-2S6, and the striking judgment of Renan (l.c. p. 340), who calls it "un des morceaux les plus extraordinaires que possède aucune litterature," and "la perle de la litterature chrétienne au Ilesiecle." He attributes it to Irenaeus; Harvey denies it to him; Donaldson leaves the authorship in doubt.412

(7.) Finally, we must mention four more Greek fragments of Irenaeus, which Pfaff discovered at Turin in 1715, and first published. Their genuineness has been called in question by some Roman divines, chiefly for doctrinal reasons.14131413    Harvey (I. clxxii) accepts them all as "possessing good external authority, and far more convincing internal proof of genuineness, than can alway s be expected in such brief extracts."413 The first treats of the true knowledge,14141414    γνῶσις ἀληθινή perhaps the same treatise as the one mentioned by Eusebius under the title περὶ τῆς ἐπιστήμης414 which consists not in the solution of subtle questions, but in divine wisdom and the imitation of Christ; the second is on the eucharist;14151415    Discussed in § 69, p. 242.415 the third, on the duty of toleration in subordinate points of difference, with reference to the Paschal controversies;14161416    This Lipsius (p. 266) considers to be the only one of the four fragments which is undoubtedly genuine.416 the fourth, on the object of the incarnation, which is stated to be the purging away of sin and the annihilation of all evil.14171417    See § 157, p. 609, and Stieren’s ed. I. 889.417

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