Project Canterbury




Catholicity and Sectarianism.










Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007

Catholicity and Sectarianism.

"In everything ye are enriched by Him. . . . So that ye
come behind in no gift." Epistle of the 18th Sunday after Trinity.

WE have in this text the Christian man presented to us on the one hand, and CHRIST on the other; the Christian man, in need of knowledge, strength, wisdom, pardon, growth, love, fear, grace, truth, life,--everything; and CHRIST, possessing everything that is needed, and standing as a Fountain of supply to man. But of what practical use were the Fountain, if its existence is spiritualized away and its location is nowhere in particular. Is CHRIST a diffused, unembodied Spirit, everywhere present, indeed, but nowhere in particular? And am I, as a Christian, to strive to reach Him, after the manner of the modern infidel when he dreamily seeks communion with the GOD of Nature? Nay, the Christian's GOD is a GOD Incarnate, an embodied GOD; a GOD, Who, for our sake, has come forth out of indefiniteness into definiteness.

[4] He is in a certain sense visible in all the world and through all time; for He dwells in a Body of human nature. He not only took flesh in Palestine eighteen hundred years ago, but He is perpetually Incarnating Himself. That is to say, the God-Man ever goes on through the centuries, and so grafts human beings into Himself, by the supernatural action of Holy Baptism, that they become, as the Scriptures say, "Members of His Body, of His Flesh, and of His Bones." And having thus ingrafted them one by one, He binds them into Himself, and Himself into them, and themselves into each other, by the Supernatural action of the Holy Communion; thus making them all one vast organic Body, even His Own Body Mystical. In short, just as a natural soul is clothed on earth in a natural body, so is CHRIST now and perpetually on earth clothed in this vast Unified Body of Human nature, this organic Body Mystical, the Church Catholic.

The Old Dispensation did not promise to us a mere continuation of GOD, Omnipresent, Diffusive and Invisible; it did not promise a mere continuance of what the world already had before; but it promised something new. It promised Immanuel; it promised that that GOD Who is always Omnipresent, should also come and in a [4/5] special sense be "with us" in the New Dispensation. Thus the Catholic Church is both outward and inward. What is Its outward part, and what Its inward? Its outward part is not simply a society of men, consenting together in mind and heart. Men could consent together in mind and heart before; they could do this on the old basis of nature. But the outward part of the Catholic Church is human beings, plucked from the root of Adam and coinhering together by Holy Sacraments as a one Organic Body around an Inward and Invisible Soul, which Soul is the God-Man CHRIST.

This perpetual Incarnation of GOD on Earth, wrought by the marvellous miracles of Font and Altar, is what distinguishes the Christian Dispensation from the Jewish; it is what distinguishes the Christian's GOD from the infidel's GOD of Nature. To suppose, on the other hand, that CHRIST'S Incarnation not only began but also ended with His Body Natural in Palestine--to suppose that that "Stone cut out without hands" was not to "grow and become a great mountain and fill the whole earth," is to reduce the Holy Sacraments to mere forms, and to remand the world back either to Judaism or to Deism.

Then further, just as a human soul sends its [5/6] ideas and sentiments and feelings out to the world through the medium or its body, so does the GOD-Man CHRIST from within the Church, as Its Soul, give off to the world all His rich gifts through His Body, the Church, distributing them by means of Its arms, of Its limbs or "extensions," which are the Ministry, the Holy Sacraments, and the other means, or channels to the world of graces.

Thus GOD in the Christian Dispensation comes down out of His diffused essence, and instead of remaining any longer only as the mere Omnipresent GOD of Nature, practically places Himself also en rapport with man. Thus the Church Catholic is simply GOD Incarnate on earth. It is then CHRIST, thus Incarnated in this organic Body of Human Nature, Which is the Fountain of supply to needy man.

Now St. Paul says that this GOD Incarnate, this Church Catholic is capable of enriching a man in everything; so that mankind in looking to It may come behind in no gift.

This at once leads to my subject this morning; viz:--One fundamental difference between this Church Catholic and each and every sect which has ever been set up outside of It.

The Church Catholic is capable of enriching all [6/7] men, in everything. As the Church was made by GOD to include all men, there is no actual taste or requirement belonging to human nature which It cannot satisfy. There are indeed morbid cravings which arise, not out of the elements that go to make up human nature, but out of defects in character. These are negative, rather than positive wants. And these the Catholic Church does not respond to. But whatsoever is a positive want, arising out of an element of human nature, that She supplies.

Not so a sect. Some men, for instance, have spiritual and natural requirements which the Quaker sect could not possibly supply. Fancy a Methodist, full of enthusiasm, going into the icehouse of a Friend's Meeting-house. Fancy a man with nature tenderly responsive to the super-natural attempting to find food for his hungers at the empty board of a Unitarian Lecture Hall. Other men have spiritual requirements which the Methodist or the Presbyterian sect could not possibly supply. Men differ and their differences are so many and so wide apart, that nothing partial, nothing but what is as broad as human nature, can meet the wants of each and all. No sect, whatever good it may do to a limited number of persons of similar dispositions, can in the nature [7/8] of things be co-extensive with man in all space and time. Sects, therefore, always have been and always will be local both in space and time. They always have been and always will be, of comparative fleeting career,--cut flowers without root, blooming rank for a while, but soon withering away.

Now let us look at man--or rather at men, and see what they are, and what kind of a Church GOD would therefore be likely to provide for them. This will be a touch-stone to apply to sects, which men have set up for their fellow-men. It will display the relationship between sects and the Catholic Church, and show us where and how it is that any given sect, or all of them together, fail to satisfy the deep and lasting requirements of human nature.

Take for instance any given man. Whoever he is, he is but a very partial representative of our human nature in its fulness. For he may have large imagination and little reason; or large causality and comparison and feeble social qualities; or large social nature and little caution and little reverence; he may have great ingenuity and little memory for names and dates. One man may have love largely developed, and may be reached most easily through that faculty; another [8/9] can only be reached through his fear; another can be reached through his taste and esthetical nature; while still another can best be reached only through his reason. Thus no given man is round and full, possessing every human faculty and element, with each in ripe development, and all in perfect harmony with each other. Now each man being thus a partial and imperfect representative of complete human nature, it follows that the wants and hungers of different men, as we find them in life, are widely diverse from each other. They differ according as the elements of our common human nature,--reason, ambition, passion, imagination, etc., are combined in different proportions in each. This being the case, what would be the Church that GOD would provide for men? Surely it would not be fitted merely to meet the wants of any one set of men. Doubtless it would be a Church capable of meeting and supplying all the positive wants of any man. There would, very likely, be things in it--truths and processes, which I personally, for instance, might not like, owing to deficiencies in my character; but which, nevertheless, owing to those very deficiencies, I would need even though I might not like them. And if I were a Protestant I should cry "Away with them," [9/10] as the sick man pushes the medicine from his reluctant lips. GOD's Church, in short, would be a Catholic Church in the broadest sense of the word. It would be endowed with, and capable of imparting, all supernatural truths possible to the grasp of human nature; even truths which some men can never grasp or hold. It would include, too, all processes to draw men; intellectual, to suit the cold brain; loving, to suit excitable natures; calming, to suit quiet natures; threatenings, for human fears, even though some men may not be timorous; warnings for human caution, even though some men be not cautious; beauty and stateliness to correspond with human taste, even though some men be devoid of the esthetic faculty; and so on. Such is the Church which human endowments and corresponding human needs call for. Such is the Church which GOD, knowing those human needs, would be likely to organize. Such He has, indeed, provided for the world in The Church Catholic.

But on the other hand, how is it with the sects? How have they subsequently arisen? The Catholic Church is, alas, harrassed with differences inside Herself. But why is it, that select sets of men separate themselves from the Church Catholic, and maintain their own private [10/11] "churches?" Let us look at this, and study it a little.

Just as some men are color-blind, and cannot distinguish blue from green, or scarlet from magenta, just as some men cannot tell one piece of music from another, so there are sets of men who are lacking in other respects. Indeed every man is, as I have said, lacking in some respects. And so men fall apart into groups. What then do these several groups do?--Take the Congregationalists. Now individual freedom is good; and external authority is good. But each is bad alone; each becomes bad if unchecked by the other. Internal freedom, unchecked by external authority, runs out into license. Authority unchecked by freedom, stiffens into tyranny. But, nevertheless, there are some men who have the consummate and irrepressible desire within for full and free play to all their motions of personal and private will, who have this instinct for freedom largely developed and unchecked by its proper qualifier, viz., the instinct for objective authority of any kind. They are unbalanced. They are lacking in character in such sense, that it is hard for them to realize that there can rightly be any external authority bringing itself to bear upon them to check freedom from running into [11/12] license. Being imperfect and wanting in this respect, these men do not wish to accept GOD's Church, because It contains something disagreeable to them, namely, an element of authority over all Its members, restraining Its Bishops, Priests and laity from doing, each, just as he pleases. These men, therefore, go forth and form a religious organization with the idea of authority cut out. They set up a Congregational sect where each parish shall be as independent of every other, and each man in the congregation as independent of every other as possible. They thus, you will perceive, arrange a sect to suit, not what may be somewhere in the cravings and what is everywhere in the needs of our human nature, but on the other hand to suit what happens to be lacking in themselves, viz: that spirit which enables one to recognize that there can and ought to be an objective authority to balance a subjective freedom. [*I am speaking here of that spirit which perpetuates Congregationalism; not of that spirit which in the 16th Century brought sects into existence, when the western portion of the Catholic Church, owing to the human element in it, lost the balance between freedom and authority and outraged the former. The question is not what may be condoned in the past, but what is injudicious in the present.] Another set of people is lacking in another respect, for instance, in a large and tender [12/13] sympathy for the supernatural objects of faith, in a sensitiveness to the beings and operations of the unseen world. Now intellect is good and heart is good. But each needs the other as a check, if intellect is to be saved from stiffening into hardness, coldness and scepticism, and if heart is to be saved from softening into weakness and superstition. But unchecked by a due development of the heart-side of their nature, the intellect of this set of people has sole play. All such supernatural and spiritual facts and beings and operating laws are out of their consciousness. The mention or thought of such is in some sense disagreeable to them. They have the faculty in that direction feebly developed. They therefore arrange a Unitarian sect, in which Holy Sacraments, Holy, places, Holy (or separate) persons shall be as much excluded as possible; and where they may enjoy, with unalloyed attention the sermon as an intellectual treat. They sedulously cut out all that appeals to those human faculties and hungers in which they are deficient, leaving only that which satisfies the fractional part of human nature which they possess. Another set of men have a large sense of the absolute sovereignty and authority of GOD. But they have this sense to a great degree unchecked and [13/14] unqualified by its opposite complement, namely, a large sense also of man's free will and responsibility. So, they arrange for themselves, and for others like-minded, a Calvinistic sect. Another set of very excellent people are lacking on the esthetic side of their natures. So, they arrange for themselves a Quaker sect, where not a note of music shall sound, and where the benches and walls shall be unpainted, and where every gay ribbon and bow shall be abolished, in order that the "nay" in them--in order that that, namely, in character, in which they are wanting, may have its morbid cravings appealed to and satisfied.

Thus you will perceive that one main peculiarity of sect-ism is, that each sect founds a system and sets it up to suit, not what is in our human nature, as one of its elements, as a gift of GOD, but what is not in themselves. They cut out what, after all, they need because it is not in themselves. They cut out what the Catholic Church supplies in order that men, who are all partial representatives of human nature, may each be educated, or developed in order that that in which each is lacking may be drawn out and enlarged, till we all come to "the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST," the perfect man.

[15] Thus each sect is inherently intolerant of just that which it has no taste or talent for, but which it lacks. Each sect is inherently negative and protestant. It cries "Nay-Nay", not "Yea-Yea." You must not have music, cries one. You must not believe in this, that, or the other doctrine, Sacrament or process, say the several sects all round the circle, until everything is denied in some one or other of them.

One of the saddest features is, too, that each sect is inherently selfish. For it appeals to and satisfies its own people in just what they happen to lack; and it encourages an uneven development of character. Indeed, sectism is the struggle of self-willed man to exclude the disagreeable, no matter whether it is best for him to have it or not. Sectism is founded on the satisfaction of "negative cravings,"--that is, of morbid hungers that arise out of deficiencies in human character. On the other hand, the Catholic Church was arranged by God to appeal to and satisfy every "positive craving," every hunger and want, that is to say, that arise not out of deficiencies but out of the elements of human nature. The Catholic Church is thus inherently positive, instead of being inherently negative. She is inherently calculated to break down, instead of fostering [15/16] selfishness and bigotry. For She appeals to and finds Her raison d'etre in the fulness of human nature; while the sects find theirs in its defects.

If my spiritual nature and wants and capacity are partial, as is the case with every man in some way or other, what quarrel ought I to have with my brother, if, while I find my wants satisfied, he also finds his different wants satisfied too in the ample treasuries of our common home, the Church. Rather should I thank GOD that my brother's needs are supplied, as well as mine. Surely, I can and surely I ought, without selfishness, to live at peace side by side with him. Ah, my dear flock, what does that man do but erect selfishness within himself, and fan bigotry within himself, what, moreover, does he do but commit the heinous sin of Schism, who presumes to take the Catholic Church, which GOD had provided for us all, and because he and a few of his friends do not, for instance, want anything esthetical and stately in its worship, or because he does not want priestly absolution, or because he does not want the Sacrament of Confirmation, or because he does not want for himself the rousing storm of a mission, or of a revival, or because he does not want asceticism or any fasting or any Saints Days, or because he does not want to pray for his dear departed [16/17] wife, child or mother, or because he does not want to cherish a likeness or a religious keepsake of a Saint; if, I say, he presumes to take GOD'S Catholic Church and narrow It to his partial wants and limited horizon by striving to cut out all these things, and thus to deprive his poor brother of them, even though that brother happens to be made a little different from himself in needs, capacities or grasp? No! down with this spirit of selfishness and bigotry and sectarianism, which feels that GOD'S world and GOD'S Church were made for one's own select sect.

GOD'S Catholic Church is like a landscape, that comes behind in no gift to any man. And the engineer goes through that landscape; and he sees and is fed by what his peculiarities crave. He sees, all along, just where he might put a railroad; just how he will follow the water courses; just where he is going to get his cuttings for his fillings, and his stone for his culverts, and his wood for his sleepers, and his gravel for his ballast. And the farmer goes through the landscape; and, lo, the landscape is rich to him, too. He gets out of it its capacity for grains and grapes and grasses; not but that the farmer would be the more complete man if he also saw with the engineer's eye; or the engineer, if he saw also with [17/18] the agriculturist's eye. And the artist goes through it; and, lo, it presents its exquisite bits of scenery to him. And the geologist goes through it; and he reads on its upturned leaves the history of the past. The spirit of Catholicity would cry, "Let it alone: let us each get all out of the landscape that ever we can." But the spirit of sect would go there and would strip it of its deep and infinite supplies to meet the wants of diverse men, leaving only what would satisfy its own peculiar self.

Just because each man is a partial and not a complete representative of human nature, just because each man lacks in some elements of character, so do they all need a whole Church capable of educating all the elements of character. But sectarianism says, on the other hand, just because men are fragmentary, so must we break up that Church into little pieces--so that one piece shall have and teach GOD The Father and the four Gospels alone, without the atonement or GOD The Son, or much else; and another piece shall, teach the Trinity and the Atonement without the Sacramental System, or much else; and another piece shall teach free will without GOD's sovereignty; and another, GOD's sovereignty without free will; and another, faith without works; and another, [18/19] works without faith; and another, dipping in Baptism without pouring; and another, pouring without dipping; (and so on through the whole diapason of doctrines and practice;) and then let us get as many men as we can out of the great Cathedral with its many windows alow and aloft, letting in the light from all around, nave, clerestory, transepts, lady-chapel, lantern, choir, east end, and west end, and shut them up in our little room with its one or two windows letting in light at one side, one end or one corner only.

If men are lacking in any element of character, mind or heart, they are apt to have no patience with whatsoever appeals to and feeds that element. If a man is lacking in musical taste, his selfishness would prompt him to away with all musical instruments; a band of music disturbs him, regardless of whether or not it is agreeable to some one else. But if a man as a spiritual being is lacking in any element, so much the more does he need the supply rather than the continued stunting and withering of what he lacks, if, that is to say, he is ever to be lifted out of his deficiencies and developed. And GOD has made His Catholic Church, and endowed it with every gift, not only that all may find in it what they severally [19/20] crave, but that each also may be schooled in what he may be wanting.

But the sectarian cries to all the world, out of his deficiencies and out of the antipathies which those defects rear within him, "Come to our sect; you don't like Confirmation; neither did we; that's our nay; we've got a sect founded on that nay, founded on our deficiencies and dislikes; come to us; you won't find any Confirmation with us:" or, "Come to our sect, you hate enthusiasms in religion; so do we; that's our nay; we've founded a sect accordingly; come to us, you won't find any revivals among us": or, "There is a great deal of music in the world indeed, but you don't like music, you think it is wicked; so do we; music is our nay; we are lacking in just that respect; we've founded a sect on our lacks, where we have no music, but sit still for the Spirit to move us, come to our sect:" or "Come to our sect; you hate these Religious; so do we; we've founded a sect on our and your deficiencies and dislikes; come to us; you won't find any of these monks and nuns with us:" or "You don't like anything stately and beautiful in worship; neither did we; we've founded a sect on our deficiencies in taste; it is just the thing; come and see; you won't find any boy-choirs [20/21] or processions or ritual with us." And so on to the end of the list of nays.

But come, saith GOD, come, says Catholicity with her "yeas," come to the Church. Do you want freedom? You will find freedom here. Do you want authority? You will find it here. Do you want the contemplative and praying life? You will find it here. Do you want the active, secular life? You will find it here. And so through all the wants that arise, not out of the defects, but out of the endowments of human nature.

If any part of the Catholic Church through the lapse of the centuries grows untrue to Her functions, and therefore untrue to man to whom She is sent, She must expect one of two things; either a struggle and a turmoil within Herself till She takes up again and uses the weapons against the world which have been allowed to lie idle and rust in her armories; or if this does not take place, She must expect sects to spring up around Her as Her punishment. For human nature will have neither tyranny nor license, scepticism nor superstition, baldness nor mere empty formalism.

But there is another divine economy in the Catholic Church, which lifts Her immeasurably [21/22] above any sect. If all men were made exactly alike in character, development and grasp, all would be equally receptive, and the Church would be able to impart a fixed amount of Her exhaustless gifts to all. But first, all men start away in life, ignorant and devoid of even a single one of the gifts and truths which the Church bestows. Then, secondly, men develop afterwards into differences of grasp; their circumstances are such, too, that their opportunities and time for acquiring systematic, moral and ascetic theology, and even for attaining spiritual growth, differ. No man, indeed, however aged and able, is ever in such position that he may not learn yet more than he already knows, that he may not attain to higher grades of spirituality, that he may not look deeper into truths he has already received, or the better understand the relationship which these profound truths bear to each other. On the other hand, the Catholic Church contains all spiritual, theological, moral and ascetic truth, each in its entirety. These are all, not actually, but potentially, made over to each member of the Church, that all the members may severally come into actual possession of as much as ever each one can. Each one, whether he is a child learning his catechism, or a youth in the Bible class, or [22/23] a young man, a middle-aged or an old man, should thank GOD for all he knows or has assimilated to himself; but his true attitude is not to deny what, either through his want of grasp, or want of years, or want of opportunity and time, or want of complete development as a representative of human nature, he does not yet receive. He should enjoy his actual possessions, and not be resistant to, or protestant against, those potential possessions which are his nevertheless, which have been made over to him by the Church, as though they were false because he has not happened to hear of them before, or been able to grasp or profit by them. The truth and the good which the Methodists have, are all in the Catholic Church; the truth and the good which the Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Lutherans and the Congregationalists and the Unitarians and the Quakers have, are all also in the Church; and a great deal more besides. It is that which they severally deny, not that which they hold, in which they differ from the Catholic Church.

Now if I had a museum, an academy containing facilities for learning all of art, and of fine art, of manufacture, and geology, and botany, and languages, and every science, and, indeed, all knowledge, and if I put into it a hundred [23/24] thousand men of differing tastes and capacities, as into a school, I have enriched them, each and all; I have held back from no one, anything. There would, therefore, be no possibility, either for the mind of any one of them to fail of its own proper food, or for any mind among them all to have a stunted growth.

The Catholic Church of GOD is analogous to such a complete school. In everything man may be enriched by It. In It there is no possibility for any one's religious life to be stunted. It has not only all truths, but all processes for spiritual growth. But sectarianism, on the other hand, is different. While each sect has a few truths, it denies and excludes the rest; while each has a few processes for spiritual growth, it excludes the rest. There are proper appliances for Christian growth among the Methodists, which certain elements in human nature crave, but which the Quakers have not; and among the Quakers, which the Congregationalists have not, and among the Unitarians which Presbyterians have not. No sect is a universal school.

Now this being the case, what is the difference between a man in the Church and a man in a sect? In a sect he has partial grasp of the whole truth. But no one in the Church has complete [24/25] grasp either. So there is no difference here. Nevertheless, the Catholic Churchman has an immense advantage over the other. For even if he also has partial grasp of the whole round of Catholic truths, and even if he does use some only of the whole circle of Catholic appliances tending to a complete spiritual and moral growth and development, he is at any rate in the Church where all the rest of the truths and appliances are; he is not cut off from them; they are all potentially his, and may happily, sooner or later, one after another, become actually his, to his great enrichment and advantage. GOD does not expect the child to be as far advanced in learning or growth as the youth, or the youth as the adult, or the young man as the old man, or those with partial opportunities for attaining all that is possible to be attained as those with full. But, on the other hand, take this same person out of GOD'S Catholic Church and put him in a sect, which simply presents doctrines and practices which the tide of his partial development and defective character is merely on a level with, and behold he is absolutely cut off from all the rest of the circle of truth, and from all the rest of the round of appliances. Nay, worse, he is not only cut off from them, but he is encouraged in prohibiting them to himself; [25/26] for the sect was founded on the idea of excluding all the rest, while the Church is founded on the idea of including them all. What hope is there, then, except that such a man must have a narrow, bigoted, stunted religious development and life.

Thus it follows that in GOD's great Church the Catholic has no quarrel with the Low Churchman. The truths which the Low Churchman holds, he holds in common with us. GOD bless him as he carries the great truth of the Atonement, the Cross of our Blessed SAVIOUR, without which we are all lost, on and out into a sinful world. GOD bless him in his earnest promulgation of all such truths. GOD bless him, as, full of zeal and of the love of souls, he gathers earnest men around him in his lecture room, that he may exhort them and that they may exhort each other and pray with each other. The Low Churchman little knows how the heart of a Catholic warms towards him as he does these things. We hold everything which he holds; but we hold a great deal more besides of the great round of Catholic truth. We can join him in his prayer meeting; but we have no quarrel with him if after the meeting is over, he will not go with us, besides, to the Altar and fall down before our LORD CHRIST and GOD. The difficulty comes in where he instead, of being passive as to [26/27] the additional and not incompatible truths, actually denies them for us as well as for himself, and in a spirit of sectism has a fierce quarrel with us for accepting from the Church and believing a little more than he does.

Now, my Catholic friends, let us beware on our side of that self same spirit of sectism, which would prompt us to drive him out of the Church because he holds only a part and not what we claim to be full truth as set forth in the formularies of the Church. For if, like bigoted sectarians, we drive him out, where could he go except into something where he would be actually cut off from learning those blessed truths?

But, besides, there is another reason why we have, on our side, no quarrel either with our Low Church or with our old fashioned High Church brethren; but rejoice rather that they are all in the Church, and hope that one and all will stay. And that is, because, even if we are fully conscious that they have not yet received all the truth which the Church has to impart to them in Her Prayer Book, we ourselves, even though we receive a little more than they, are by no means graduates. For we all are learners, as I have said, and always will be in Her vast school of infinite truth. And we shall never, any of us, [27/28] learn the whole, till we get into that Higher School where we shall see the LORD face to face in Beatific Vision. The fact is, we are simply all of us, Low, High and Catholic, standing at different positions on an inclined plain of grasp, opportunity and receptiveness; while CHRIST, through the Church, stands ready to enrich us all in everything, so that we come behind in no gift.

We have, I say, no quarrel whatever with them. Let us pray GOD that they may cease their quarrel with us; and that we may all love each other, and bear with each other, and pray for each other, and work with each other, and think no evil of each other. Knowing that we shall all do well, if we only continue sitting in humility and teachableness around the knee of our great, kind, patient Mother the Church Catholic; and realizing more fully, the more we learn, how dangerous a little learning is; how full it is apt to be of the spirit of arrogance, bitterness and hardness; for down to a certain point the less a man knows, alas, the more he thinks he knows.

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