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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Sec. I.—Concerning the Martyrs.

That It is Reasonable for the Faithful to Supply the Wants of Those Who are Afflicted for the Sake of Christ by the Unbelievers, According to the Constitution of the Lord.

I. If any Christian, on account of the name of Christ, and love and faith towards God, be condemned by the ungodly to the games, to the beasts, or to the mines, do not ye overlook him; but send to him from your labour and your very sweat for his sustenance, and for a reward to the soldiers, that he may be eased and be taken care of; that, as far as lies in your power, your blessed brother may not be afflicted: for he that is condemned for the name of the Lord God is an holy martyr, a brother of the Lord, the son of the Highest, a receptacle of the Holy Spirit, by whom every one of the faithful has received the illumination of the glory of the holy Gospel, by being vouchsafed the incorruptible crown, and the testimony of Christ’s sufferings, and the fellowship of His blood, to be made conformable to the death of Christ for the adoption of children. For this cause do you, all ye of the faithful, by your bishop, minister to the saints of your substance and of your labour. But if any one has not, let him fast a day, and set apart that, and order it for the saints. But if any one has superfluities, let him minister more to them according to the proportion of his ability. But if he can possibly sell all his livelihood, and redeem them out of prison, he will be blessed, and a friend of Christ. For if he that gives his goods to the poor be perfect, supposing his knowledge of divine things, much more is he so that does it on account of the martyrs. For such a one is worthy of God, and will fulfil His will by supplying those who have confessed Him before nations and kings, and the children of Israel; concerning whom our Lord declared, saying: “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father.”29722972     Matt. x. 32.   And if these be such as to be attested to by Christ before His Father, you ought not to be ashamed to go to them in the prisons. For if you do this, it will be esteemed to you for a testimony, because the real trial was to them a testimony; and your readiness will be so to you, as being partakers of their combat: for the Lord speaks somewhere to such as these, saying: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungry, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer, and say, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee naked, and clothed Thee? or sick, and visited Thee? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or in prison, and came unto Thee? And He will answer and say unto them, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And these shall go away into life everlasting. Then shall He say unto them on His left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer and say, Lord when saw we Thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee? Then shall He answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these, neither have ye done it unto me. And these shall go away unto everlasting punishment.”29732973     Matt. xxv. 34, etc. Portions of the passage from Matthew are omitted in one V. ms.; and the conclusions beginning with “Then shall they also,” is entirely omitted. [The citation is quite accurate; ver. 46 is divided, doubtless for the sake of emphasis, and slightly modified.—R.]    

That We are to Avoid Intercourse with False Brethren When They Continue in Their Wickedness.

II. But if any one who calls himself a brother is seduced by the evil one, and acts wickedness, and is convicted and condemned to death as an adulterer, or a murderer, depart from him, that ye may be secure, and none of you may be suspected as a partner in such an abominable practice; and that no evil report may be spread abroad, as if all Christians took a pleasure in unlawful actions. Wherefore keep far from them. But do you assist with all diligence those that for the sake of Christ are abused by the ungodly and shut up in prison, or who are given over to death, or bonds, or banishment, in order to deliver your fellow-members from wicked hands. And if any one who accompanies with them is caught, and falls into misfortune, he is blessed, because he is partaker with the martyr, and is one that imitates the sufferings of Christ; for we ourselves also, when we oftentimes received stripes from Caiaphas, and Alexander, and Annas, for Christ’s sake, “went out rejoicing that we were counted worthy to suffer such things for our Saviour.”29742974     Acts iv. 6; v. 40, 41.   Do you also rejoice when ye suffer such things, for ye shall be blessed in that day.29752975     Vid. Luke vi. 22, 23.    

That We Ought to Afford an Helping Hand to Such as are Spoiled for the Sake of Christ, Although We Should Incur Danger Ourselves.

III. Receive also those that are persecuted on account of the faith, and who “fly from city to city”29762976     Matt. x. 23.   on account of the Lord’s commandment; and assist them as martyrs, rejoicing that ye are made partakers of their persecution, as knowing that they are esteemed blessed by the Lord; for Himself says: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, because your reward is great in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before us.”29772977     Matt. v. 11, 12.   And again: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”29782978     John xv. 20.   And afterwards: “If they persecute you in this city, flee ye to another. For in the world ye have tribulation: for they shall deliver you into the synagogues; and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, and for a testimony to them.”29792979     Matt. x. 23, 17; John xvi. 33.   And, “He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved.”29802980     Matt. x. 22.   For he that is persecuted for the sake of the faith, and bears witness in regard to Him, Christ, and endures, is truly a man of God.  

That It is an Horrible and Destructive Thing to Deny Christ.

IV. But he that denies himself to be a Christian, that he may not be hated of men, and so loves his own life more than he does the Lord, in whose hand his breath is, is wretched and miserable, as being detestable and abominable, who desires to be the friend of men, but is the enemy of God, having no longer his portion with the saints, but with those that are accursed; choosing instead of the kingdom of the blessed, that eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: not being any longer hated by men, but rejected by God, and cast out from His presence. For of such a one our Lord declared, saying: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, and shall be ashamed of my name, I also will deny and be ashamed of him before my Father which is in heaven.”29812981     Matt. x. 33; Luke ix. 26.   And again He speaks thus to us ourselves, His disciples: “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”29822982     Matt. x. 37, xvi. 26.   And afterwards: “Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”29832983     Matt. x. 28.    

That We Ought to Imitate Christ in Suffering, and with Zeal to Follow His Patience.

V. Every one therefore who learns any art, when he sees his master by his diligence and skill perfecting his art, does himself earnestly endeavour to make what he takes in hand like to it. If he is not able, he is not perfected in his work. We therefore who have a Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, why do we not follow His doctrine?—since He renounced repose, pleasure, glory, riches, pride, the power of revenge, His mother and brethren, nay, and moreover His own life, on account of His piety towards His Father, and His love to us the race of mankind; and suffered not only persecution and stripes, reproach and mockery, but also crucifixion, that He might save the penitent, both Jews and Gentiles. If therefore He for our sakes renounced His repose, was not ashamed of the cross, and did not esteem death inglorious, why do not we imitate His sufferings, and renounce on His account even our own life, with that patience which He gives us? For He did all for our sakes, but we do it for our own sakes: for He does not stand in need of us, but we stand in need of His mercy. He only requires the sincerity and readiness of our faith, as the Scripture says: “If thou beest righteous, what doest thou give to Him? or what will He receive at thy hand? Thy wickedness is to a man like thyself, and thy righteousness to a son of man.”29842984     Job xxxv. 7, 8. One V. ms. reads “piety,” instead of “wickedness,” in the last sentence.    

That a Believer Ought Neither Rashly to Run into Danger Through Security, Nor to Be Over-Timorous Through Pusillanimity, But to Fly Away for Fear; Yet that If He Does Fall into the Enemy’s Hand, to Strive Earnestly, Upon Account of the Crown that is Laid Up for Him.

VI. Let us therefore renounce our parents, and kinsmen, and friends, and wife, and children, and possessions, and all the enjoyments of life, when any of these things become an impediment to piety. For we ought to pray that we may not enter into temptation; but if we be called to martyrdom, with constancy to confess His precious name, and if on this account we be punished, let us rejoice, as hastening to immortality. When we are persecuted, let us not think it strange; let us not love the present world, nor the praises which come from men, nor the glory and honour of rulers, according as some of the Jews wondered at the mighty works of our Lord, yet did not believe on Him, for fear of the high priests and the rest of the rulers: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”29852985     John xii. 43.   But now, by confessing a good confession, we not only save ourselves, but we confirm those who are newly illuminated, and strengthen the faith of the catechumens. But if we remit any part of our confession, and deny godliness by the faintness of our persuasion, and the fear of a very short punishment, we not only deprive ourselves of everlasting glory, but we shall also become the causes of the perdition of others; and shall suffer double punishment, as affording suspicion, by our denial that that truth which we gloried in so much before is an erroneous doctrine. Wherefore neither let us be rash and hasty to thrust ourselves into dangers, for the Lord says: “Pray that ye fall not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”29862986     Matt. xxvi. 41. [See De Fuga, vol. iv. p. 119.]   Nor let us, when we do fall into dangers, be fearful or ashamed of our profession. For if a person, by the denial of his own hope, which is Jesus the Son of God, should be delivered from a temporary death, and the next day should fall dangerously sick upon his bed, with a distemper in his bowels, his stomach, or his head, or any of the incurable diseases, as a consumption, or gangrene, or looseness, or iliac passion, or dropsy, or colic, and has a sudden catastrophe, and departs this life; is not he deprived of the things present, and loses those eternal? Or rather, he is within the verge of eternal punishment, “and goes into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”29872987     Matt. viii. 12.   But let him who is vouchsafed the honour of martyrdom rejoice with joy in the Lord, as obtaining thereby so great a crown, and departing out of this life by his confession. Nay, though he be but a catechumen, let him depart without trouble; for his suffering for Christ will be to him a more genuine baptism, because he does really die with Christ, but the rest only in a figure. Let him therefore rejoice in the imitation of his Master, since is it thus ordained: “Let every one be perfect, as his Master is.”29882988     Luke vi. 40.   Now his and our Master, Jesus the Lord, was smitten for our sake: He underwent reproaches and revilings with long-suffering. He was spit upon, He was smitten on the face, He was buffeted; and when He had been scourged, He was nailed to the cross. He had vinegar and gall to drink; and when He had fulfilled all things that were written, He said to His God and Father, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”29892989     Luke xxiii. 46.   Wherefore let him that desires to be His disciple earnestly follow His conflicts: let him imitate His patience, knowing that, although he be burned in the fire by men, he will suffer nothing, like the three children;29902990     Dan. iii.   or if he does suffer anything, he shall receive a reward from the Lord, believing in the one and the only true God and Father, through Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, and Redeemer of our souls, and rewarder of our sufferings. To whom be glory for ever. Amen.  

Several Demonstrations Concerning the Resurrection, Concerning the Sibyl, and What the Stoics Say Concerning the Bird Called the Phoenix.

VII. For the Almighty God Himself will raise us up through our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His infallible promise, and grant us a resurrection with all those that have slept from the beginning of the world; and we shall then be such as we now are in our present form, without any defect or corruption. For we shall rise incorruptible: whether we die at sea, or are scattered on the earth, or are torn to pieces by wild beasts and birds, He will raise us by His own power; for the whole world is held together by the hand of God. Now He says: “An hair of your head shall not perish.”29912991     Luke xxi. 18.   Wherefore He exhorts us, saying: “In your patience possess ye your souls.”29922992     Luke xxi. 19.   But as concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the recompense of reward for the martyrs, Gabriel speaks to Daniel: “And many of them that sleep shall arise out of the dust of the earth, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that understand shall shine as the sun, and as the firmament, and as the stars.”29932993     Dan. xii. 2, 3.   Therefore the most holy Gabriel foretold that the saints should shine like the stars: for His sacred name did witness to them, that they might understand the truth. Nor is a resurrection only declared for the martyrs, but for all men, righteous and unrighteous, godly and ungodly, that every one may receive according to his desert. For God, says the Scripture, “will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”29942994     Eccles. xii. 14.   This resurrection was not believed by the Jews, when of old they said, “Our bones are withered, and we are gone.”29952995     Ezek. xxxvii. 11, etc.   To whom God answered, and said: “Behold, I open your graves, and will bring you out of them; and I will put my Spirit into you, and ye shall live: and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.” And He says by Isaiah: “The dead shall rise, and those that are in the graves shall be raised up. And those that rest in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which is from Thee shall be healing to them.”29962996     Isa. xxvi. 19.   There are indeed many and various things said concerning the resurrection, and concerning the continuance of the righteous in glory, and concerning the punishment of the ungodly, their fall, rejection, condemnation, shame, “eternal fire, and endless worm.”29972997     Isa. lxvi. 24.   Now that, if it had pleased Him that all men should be immortal, it was in His power, He showed in the examples of Enoch and Elijah, while He did not suffer them to have any experience of death. Or if it had pleased Him in every generation to raise those that died, that this also He was able to do He hath made manifest both by Himself and by others; as when He raised the widow’s son29982998     1 Kings xvii.   by Elijah, and the Shunammite’s son29992999     2 Kings iv.   by Elisha. But we are persuaded that death is not a retribution of punishment, because even the saints have undergone it; nay, even the Lord of the saints, Jesus Christ, the life of them that believe, and the resurrection of the dead. Upon this account, therefore, according to the ancient practice, for those who live in the great city, after the combats He brings a dissolution for a while, that, when He raises up every one, He may either reject him or crown him. For He that made the body of Adam out of the earth will raise up the bodies of the rest, and that of the first man, after their dissolution, (to pay what is owing to the rational nature of man; we mean the continuance in being through all ages. He, therefore, who brings on the dissolution, will Himself procure the resurrection. And He that said, “The Lord took dust from the ground, and formed man, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul,”30003000     Gen. ii. 7.   added after the disobedience, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return;”30013001     Gen. iii. 19.   the same promised us a resurrection afterwards.30023002     The part within parentheses is not in one of the V. mss.  ) For says He: “All that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.”30033003     John v. 25.   Besides these arguments, we believe there is to be a resurrection also from the resurrection of our Lord. For it is He that raised Lazarus, when he had been in the grave four days,30043004     John xi.   and Jairus’ daughter,30053005     Mark v.   and the widow’s son.30063006     Luke vii.   It is He that raised Himself by the command of the Father in the space of three days, who is the pledge of our resurrection. For says He: “I am the resurrection and the life.”30073007     John xi. 25.   Now He that brought Jonas30083008     Jonah ii.   in the space of three days, alive and unhurt, out of the belly of the whale, and the three children out of the furnace of Babylon, and Daniel out of the mouth of the lions,30093009     Dan. iii., vi   does not want power to raise us up also. But if the Gentiles laugh at us, and disbelieve our Scriptures, let at least their own prophetess Sibylla30103010     [Compare pp. 256, 257, supra.]   oblige them to believe, who says thus to them in express words:—  

“But when all things shall be reduced to dust and ashes,

And the immortal God who kindled the fire shall have quenched it,

God shall form those bones and that ashes into a man again,

And shall place mortal men again as they were before.

And then shall be the judgment, wherein God will do justice,

And judge the world again. But as many mortals as have sinned through impiety

Shall again be covered under the earth;

But so many as have been pious shall live again in the world.

When God puts His Spirit into them, and gives those at once that are godly both life and favour,

Then shall all see themselves.”30113011     Orac. Sibyl., , l. iv. in fin. [See p. 324, supra.]  

If, therefore, this prophetess confesses the resurrection, and does not deny the restoration of all things, and distinguishes the godly from the ungodly, it is in vain for them to deny our doctrine. Nay, indeed, they say they can show a resemblance of the resurrection, while they do not themselves believe the things they declare: for they say that there is a bird single in its kind which affords a copious demonstration of the resurrection, which they say is without a mate, and the only one in the creation. They call it a phœnix, and relate that every five hundred years it comes into Egypt, to that which is called the altar of the sun, and brings with it a great quantity of cinnamon, and cassia, and balsam-wood, and standing towards the east, as they say, and praying to the sun, of its own accord is burnt, and becomes dust; but that a worm arises again out of those ashes, and that when the same is warmed it is formed into a new-born phoenix; and when it is able to fly, it goes to Arabia, which is beyond the Egyptian countries. If, therefore, as even themselves say, a resurrection is exhibited by the means of an irrational bird, wherefore do they vainly disparage our accounts, when we profess that He who by His power brings that into being which was not in being before, is able to restore this body, and raise it up again after its dissolution? For on account of this full assurance of hope we undergo stripes, and persecutions, and deaths. Otherwise we should to no purpose undergo such things if we had not a full assurance of these promises, whereof we profess ourselves to be the preachers. As, therefore, we believe Moses when he says, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth;”30123012     Gen. i. 1.   and we know that He did not want matter, but by His will alone brought those things into being which Christ was commanded to make; we mean the heaven, the earth, the sea, the light, the night, the day, the luminaries, the stars, the fowls, the fishes, and four-footed beasts, the creeping things, the plants, and the herbs; so also will He raise all men up by His will, as not wanting any assistance. For it is the work of the same power to create the world and to raise the dead. And then He made man, who was not a man before, of different parts, giving to him a soul made out of nothing. But now He will restore the bodies, which have been dissolved, to the souls that are still in being: for the rising again belongs to things laid down, not to things which have no being. He therefore that made the original bodies out of nothing, and fashioned various forms of them, will also again revive and raise up those that are dead. For He that formed man in the womb out of a little seed, and created in him a soul which was not in being before,—as He Himself somewhere speaks to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee;”30133013     Jer. i. 5.   and elsewhere, “I am the Lord who established the heaven, and laid the foundations of the earth, and formed the spirit of man in him,”30143014     Zech. xii. 1.  —will also raise up all men, as being His workmanship; as also the divine Scripture testifies that God said to Christ, His only-begotten, “Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness. And God made man: after the image of God made He him; male and female made He them.”30153015     Gen. i. 26, 27.   And the most divine and patient Job, of whom the Scripture says that it is written, that “he was to rise again with those whom the Lord raises up,”30163016     In fin. Job in LXX.   speaks to God thus: “Hast not Thou milked me like milk, and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favour, and Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit. Having these things within me, I know that Thou canst do all things, and that nothing is impossible with Thee.”30173017     Job x. 10.   Wherefore also30183018     The words from “Wherefore also” to “possible with God” are omitted in one V. ms., and noticed as spurious in the other.   our Saviour and Master Jesus Christ says, that “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”30193019     Luke xviii. 27.   And David, the beloved of God, says: “Thine hands have made me, and fashioned me.”30203020     Ps. cxix. 73.   And again: “Thou knowest my frame.”30213021     Ps. ciii. 14.   And afterward: “Thou hast fashioned me, and laid Thine hand upon me. The knowledge of Thee is declared to be too wonderful for me; it is very great, I cannot attain unto it.”30223022     Ps. cxxxix. 5, 6.   “Thine eyes did see my substance, being yet imperfect; and all men shall be written in Thy book.”30233023     Ps. cxxxix. 16.   Nay, and Isaiah says in his prayer to Him: “We are the clay, and Thou art the framer of us.”30243024     Isa. lxiv. 8.   If, therefore, man be His workmanship, made by Christ, by Him most certainly will he after he is dead be raised again, with intention either of being crowned for his good actions or punished for his transgressions. But if He, being the legislator, judges with righteousness; as He punishes the ungodly, so does He do good to and saves the faithful. And those saints who for His sake have been slain by men, “some of them He will make light as the stars, and make others bright as the luminaries,”30253025     Dan. xii. 3.   as Gabriel said to Daniel. All we of the faithful, therefore, who are the disciples of Christ, believe His promises. For He that has promised it cannot lie; as says the blessed prophet David: “The Lord is faithful in all His words, and holy in all His works.”30263026     Ps. cxlv. 17.   For He that framed for Himself a body out of a virgin, is also the Former of other men. And He that raised Himself from the dead, will also raise again all that are laid down. He who raises wheat out of the ground with many stalks from one grain, He who makes the tree that is cut down send forth fresh branches, He that made Aaron’s dry rod put forth buds,30273027     Num. xvii. 8   will raise us up in glory; He that raised Him up that had the palsy whole,30283028     Matt. ix. 2, etc.   and healed him that had the withered hand,30293029     Mark iii. 1, etc.   He that supplied a defective part to him that was born blind from clay and spittle,30303030     John ix. 1, etc.   will raise us up; He that satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, and caused a remainder of twelve baskets,30313031     Matt. xiv. 17, etc.   and out of water made wine,30323032     John ii. 3, etc.   and sent a piece of money out of a fish’s mouth30333033     Matt. xvii. 24, etc.   by me Peter to those that demanded tribute, will raise the dead. For we testify all these things concerning Him, and the prophets testify the other. We who have eaten and drunk with Him, and have been spectators of His wonderful works, and of His life, and of His conduct, and of His words, and of His sufferings, and of His death, and of His resurrection from the dead, and who associated with Him forty days after His resurrection,30343034     Acts i. 3.   and who received a command from Him to preach the Gospel to all the world, and to make disciples of all nations,30353035     Matt. xxviii. 19.   and to baptize them into His death by the authority of the God of the universe, who is His Father, and by the testimony of the Spirit, who is His Comforter,—we teach you all these things which He appointed us by His constitutions, before “He was received up in our sight into heaven,”30363036     Acts i. 9.   to Him that sent Him. And if you will believe, you shall be happy; but if you will not believe, we shall be found innocent, and clear from your incredulity.  

Concerning James the Brother of the Lord, and Stephen the First Martyr.

VIII. Now concerning the martyrs, we say to you that they are to be had in all honour with you, as we honour the blessed James the bishop, and the holy Stephen our fellow-servant. For these are reckoned blessed by God, and are honoured by holy men, who were pure from all transgressions, immoveable when tempted to sin, or persuaded from good works, without dispute deserving encomiums: of whom also David speaks, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His holy ones;”30373037     Ps. cxvi. 15.   and Solomon says, “The memory of the just is with encomiums:”30383038     Prov. x. 7.   of whom also the prophet speaks, “Righteous men are taken away.”30393039     Isa. lvii. 1, LXX.    

Concerning False Martyrs.

IX. These things we have said concerning those that in truth have been martyrs for Christ, but not concerning false martyrs, concerning whom the oracle speaks, “The name of the ungodly is extinguished.”30403040     Prov. x. 7.   For “a faithful witness will not lie, but an unjust witness inflames lies.”30413041     Prov. xiv. 5.   For he that departs this life in his testimony without lying, for the sake of the truth, is a faithful martyr, worthy to be believed in such things wherein he strove for the word of piety by his own blood.  


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