Ruminations on the Bishop of Rome’s Resignation

February 15th, 2013 Post by

The last  pope to resign was in 1415, little over a century before the start of the Reformation. For us Americans who now think from cyber moment to cyber moment the talk of centuries sounds equivalent to geologic time and we just go, wow. I do. It is mighty impressive to think that in the West, this is longest enduring institutional succession…from Peter…well…for almost 2,000 years.   Nevertheless, for 6 centuries plus, the pope has died in office. Just think back to John Paul the II’s last days…as with many a pontiff, the shuffling crowds in St. Peter’s Square, in all kinds of weather, looking up worriedly, lovingly, at the papal apartments as the stricken “successor to Peter” laid in extremis, waiting for his inevitable death.  This Bishop of Rome has not allowed that to happen…so modern/post-modern?  Equivalent to that would be Queen Elizabeth II after her diamond jubilee declaring at Buckingham:  “Oh that’s quite enough, I’m going off to Balmoral, with my corgis and Charles can take over. Keep on watching Downtown Abbey. Let’s go Philip.” No, “The Queen is dead, long live the King”.  Even as an American, I would feel cheated. Now we have a new show to watch:  the papal enclave. Already the media is lining up the candidates with all their credentials, e.g., a polyglot, an evangelist, a citizen of the 3rd world, winsome (in order to “win some” as one ELCA bishop told us) etc.    The pope resignee is also a cardinal:  will he vote? But eventually, with a new pope installed, Joseph Ratzinger will die the death of Old Adam and so will come the spectacle of the new Bishop of Rome presiding at the burial of his predecessor. It will be a media event.

A few years back the current Bishop of Rome said Mass at Nat Stadium in DC on a Sunday afternoon and one network broadcast it. Maybe it wasn’t the football season. I tried to watch it and stay awake, but my Sunday afternoon after Liturgy nap got me.  When I awoke, the Mass was ending.  I personally love it when Mass, Holy Communion, Gottesdienst, is on TV.  Take away all the staging and media hype of a papal mass, it is the simple meal of His Body and Blood, which has undone more than one empire of man in the preaching of Law and Gospel. Better that any day than Joel Osteen grinning and preening on TV.  At the end, the camera had a close-up as the Holy Father, eyes closed, I guess in prayer.  All of a sudden, he opened his eyes, started grinning and waving and everyone at the stadium started applauding and cheering. He came down from the Altar got into the pope mobile to do a couple of victory laps around the stadium to the adoring crowds…grinning, maybe not preening, but certainly the center of attention,  Jesus was in the back seat as the attention switched from Jesus to His servant of the servants of Christ on earth.  However, he likes a little bit of preening: he sure likes hats:

 

This has all the marks of a human institution, not one of divine right. The adoring interfaith crowds love it.

In The History of the Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos (Ware), the Bishop’s narrative of the Schism of 1054 is the Orthodox understanding of the papal office.  After reading that chapter, I had to reread The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.  From Bishop Kallistos’ history:

“The Orthodox attitude to the Papacy is admirably expressed by a twelfth-century writer, Nicetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia:

‘…. (The Roman Church) has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy, which does not belong to her office… How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves.’

This is as critical and correct as the Confessions. The Bishop of Rome stated flatly in 1054 to the Bishop of Constantinople: filioque or you are excommunicate.  The problem was not finally the filioque but supremacy. The Roman bishop had decided a doctrine as supreme over all the other bishops.  The Confessions are clear:  the pope does not define nor declare doctrine but doctrine is decided Scripture…alone.   “Ex cathedra” means he decides doctrine “infallibly”.  The last time a Bishop of Rome did so was on 1 November, 1950, when Pope Pius XII declared that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a dogma of the Roman Church.  Quite an assumption as it is not in Scripture. The papal office as supreme exhibits our frailties and foibles at their worst.

Someone said on TV that after the February 28th, the pope would go back to being Joseph Ratzinger.  Just a priest.  Hmmm…just a priest. He has always been “just a priest”, just a pastor, just a bishop.  Beloved in the Lord, isn’t that enough and always has been and we pray that it will be enough?  For your pastor as well? But we want a “superstar” who’s charisma would charm the socks off the devil himself…but it won’t. Jesus fought the devil. He did not charm him. Now I have thought that “Mark Schroeder Ministries” has a lovely ring to it and I would have a ring as well to kiss. My opinion is that Father Joseph is a knowledgeable, doctrinal, scholarly and caring priest who believes in Jesus, as did his predecessor, Fr. Karol.  Satis est, it is enough.  I just pray it would be for us all in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  Roman Catholic Biblical scholar, Raymond Brown hoped that one day a new pope would not choose a new name but keep his name given at Baptism.  That would be a start.

The papal office, as all things,  has to do with the 1st Commandment and the temptation of idolatry in our media, self-image, PR driven world as we see when Bishop of Rome goes on the road. The Old Adamic yearning for the immediate  contact of  the all-attractive one, for a pope, a president,  a politician or a “star”, is the opening of many an anti-Christ. Our Lord knew that temptation in the flesh.  Here are all the kingdoms of the world.  He relied only on the Word of His Father.

It could be that the papacy, as human institution, has been used by the Lord for His purposes in our time, as in the collapse of the Soviet Empire; and I think the Bishop of Rome has kept the Roman Church from sliding off into the abyss of post-modernism. Yet, it is  a clay vessel of a human invention.  Now the divine office of pastor and bishop is not, yet all who are so called to be pastor and bishops are clay vessels, as it is written “…to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7).

I close with a quote from Life Together by Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Dobberstein translation).  In Bonhoeffer’s day, the mass media was radio and the cinema.  It was used effectively to enthrall the masses.  This fleshly lust for the person is even more dangerous when we apply it to the Church because then the kingdoms are fused. His caution is ecumenical and catholic. The emphases are my own.

The Ministry of Authority

“Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43). Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” “authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (I Tim. 3:1 ff.).One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.

Ultimately, this hankering for false authority has at its root a desire to re-establish some sort of immediacy, a dependence upon human beings in the Church. Genuine authority knows that all immediacy is especially baneful in matters of authority. Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Matt. 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former but in the latter is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.

Almighty and most merciful God and Father, through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, You have established Your Church to be a temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks that You continue to provide shepherds to feed and serve Your flock in which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. We humbly implore You ever to strengthen the labors of Your ministers, that through their ministry of Word and Sacrament Your people may increase in Your knowledge and service and grow up into Him who is the head, even Jesus Christ, to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit, be all glory now and forever. (from Lutheran Service Book:  Agenda, Ordination)


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  1. Jim Hamilton
    February 15th, 2013 at 12:10 | #1

    I like your point about people seeking a celebrity to worship. The pope is a great example of that. Also, the creepy adulation heaped upon Obama at his latest coronation is another. Watching people fawn over the high and the mighty and debase themselves is pathetic. I used to work in a funeral home. All the dead bodies looked the same. It didn’t matter matter if a person in life had been rich and important or poor and nameless. Sin devours everyone, great or small. We all desperately need the Triune God and His Gospel, not some crumby pope or politician.

  2. February 15th, 2013 at 12:21 | #2

    @Jim Hamilton #1 I think the main problem is not the idol but the idolater which is us all by fallen nature. I am sure I have looked pathetic. We want to worship a god we can see, or make a god into one that fits me, in other words a divine double. But if it is the true God, it will be in a place that does not correspond at all to human nature and that place is the Cross (Bonhoeffer). Have a blessed day.

  3. GaiusKurios
    February 15th, 2013 at 14:04 | #3

    Farewell to one Anti-Christ, bring on the next Anti-Christ.

  4. February 15th, 2013 at 14:24 | #4

    As a gift, the next incoming pope should be given a copy of the Augsburg confession :D

  5. Lumpenkönig
    February 15th, 2013 at 22:38 | #5

    From the quoted Bonhoeffer excerpt:

    The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.

    Am I missing something, or could Bonhoeffer’s essay be used to explain to evangelicals why Lutheran pastors choose to dress like parish priests; It is an outward expression of humility.

    ——————————————–
    Comparison is the thief of joy

    ~Theodore Roosevelt

  6. Don
    February 16th, 2013 at 08:24 | #6

    “a papal mass, it is the simple meal of His Body and Blood,…”
    Martin Luther called in an abomination. It is against scripture as the Mass is a resacrifice. Hebrews 10:11.

    ” My opinion is that Father Joseph is a knowledgeable, doctrinal, scholarly and caring priest who believes in Jesus, as did his predecessor, Fr. Karol. Satis est, it is enough.”

    Roman Catholicism is Semi-Pelagian. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. 2:14 Both Popes have been hiding child abuse in the church and by teaching man’s doctrines there can be no faith, so I would not call the past two Pope’s doctrinal, or a caring priest who believes in Jesus. The RC Church teaches faith is faith in its Traditions, Doctrines and Chruch, not faith in Christ’s blood. Lev. 17:11

  7. helen
    February 16th, 2013 at 08:50 | #7

    The pope resignee is also a cardinal: will he vote?

    In case you’ve missed it, cardinals over 80 years old do not participate in the conclave. Cardinal Ratzinger will not vote. I imagine there will be people who know his opinions, but the Cardinals are only responsible to God for their votes.

  8. helen
    February 16th, 2013 at 09:05 | #8

    @Don #6
    The RC Church teaches faith is faith in its Traditions, Doctrines and Chruch, not faith in Christ’s blood.

    Ah, yes. “Tradition and doctrines” are so much less reliable than “by-laws”, “CTCR opinions”, and CCM rulings by unelected political cronies of the SP! [Which must be considered infallible, since it was dictated that they were to be obeyed without question or comment!]

    We also taught faith in Lutheran Christian doctrines once. Now the stagecoach is careening across the landscape, half the horses are running wild and there are apparently no reins for the driver to lose!

    But we can see other church’s faults… crystal clear! :(

  9. Carl Vehse
    February 16th, 2013 at 09:10 | #9

    Following the resignation of the pope and until we see white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, Lutherans have a singular opportunity to suggest, in baseball terms, a “designated Antichrist,” someone temporarily substituting as the Antichrist, until a new pope takes his rightful place.

    This opportunity also is a good time to review the Scriptural qualifications for the Antichrist, and, as exposited in the Lutheran Synbols, why the pope meets those qualifications.

    And, today, there would seem to be a number of candidates who might be a “designee,” including one politician who has been proclaimed by the MSM as the “messiah,” who participates in interfaith and other church services, and whose pronouncements are expected to be treated as both law and gospel.

  10. Don
    February 16th, 2013 at 10:30 | #10

    @helen #8
    Helen,
    I don’t know what organizations you are referring to with your abbreviations, but I did look up CTCR and found it to be Missouri Synod. I am a Martin Luther lutheran, not any other, and since that denomination does not exist, nothing you can say about church denominational groups or committees means anything to me. I am a Bible reader who studies religious history. It helps me to discern the many errors in today’s churches (Roman Catholicism is at the top of the list). I have no denomination as I have found no church teaching what I call “pure doctrine.” I do not believe in creeds, but I do find the BOC and Luther’s writings very valuable.

    When you say, “the one true church,” and use the word “infallible” it leads me to think you may have been a Roman Catholic who continues to support that chruch, but now call yourself some denonmination of Lutheran?

    Somehow you have a distorted understanding of the true church (invisible) here on earth and are putting too much emphasis on what man is doing.

    The BOC p. 416.43,44, says, “Where he (Holy Spirit) does not cause the Word to be preached and does not awaken understanding in the heart, all is lost. This was the case under the papacy, where faith was entirely shoved under the bench and no one recognized Christ as the Lord, or the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier….” Read that section if you have a BOC. It continues to be true today in not only the RC Church but on TV and in most other churches. This is why I do not partake of any of it. I only read and study the Bible.

  11. Matthew Mills
    February 16th, 2013 at 18:26 | #11

    @Don #6
    The Arminian Reformed and their progeny are full-up Pelagian. They teach that fallen man can “make a decision for Christ.” That lie puts man and not God in charge. The RC church is wrong about the necessity of the Christian cooperating w/ God in their salvation post conversion, but let’s give them their due: they give God the initium fidei through the sacrament of baptism.

    All of the the Protestant churches deny the efficacy of the means of grace. They teach that Christ is not present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, and they deny that sinners receive forgiveness of sins through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and clerical Absolution. The Protestant churches are totally full of the doctrines of man, and veritable fountains of brand new traditions, of which the Apostles knew nothing.

    Does that make the RC church right? No, but put it in perspective. The Lutherans are more catholic than Protestant, and there are way more theological minefields on the left than on the right.

  12. helen
    February 16th, 2013 at 18:38 | #12

    @Don #10
    I don’t know what organizations you are referring to with your abbreviations, but I did look up CTCR and found it to be Missouri Synod.

    I apologize for using acronyms. As this is a confessional Lutheran web site principally concerned with the affairs of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I assumed most would understand the acronyms and that the remark about infallibility was pure sarcasm although the statement referring to adherence without question was true.

    Please do not jump to unwarranted conclusions! I am, as they say, a born Lutheran. :)

    Martin Luther did believe in the creeds; they were in his earliest catechism. Definitions of the Christian church and the true faith are in his explanations to the third article of the Apostles
    Creed. You can find that in your Book of Concord.

  13. helen
    February 16th, 2013 at 18:44 | #13

    @Matthew Mills #11
    Does that make the RC church right? No, but put it in perspective. The Lutherans are more catholic than Protestant, and there are way more theological minefields on the left than on the right.

    Well worth repeating, in this current age of pandering to the liberal “marketing” denominations!

  14. Carl Vehse
    February 16th, 2013 at 19:27 | #14

    Well, if games are to be played in comparing whether the Romanist denomination or the Methobapticostal denominations are more heterodox (or heretical), let’s compare their respective sources of doctrine.

    The Romansts rely on three: Scripture, tradition, and the pope. Methobapticostals rely on Scripture and human reasoning. On that basis, the Romanist sources or doctrine are 2/3 erroneous while the Methobaptiscostals sources are 1/2 erroneous. :-)

  15. February 17th, 2013 at 14:30 | #15

    @Carl Vehse #14
    Methabapticostals have way more doctrinal sources than that. They hang on every word that proceeds from the mouth of their favorite celebrity, every wind of trends from their favorite brand of doxological innovation, and all the junk put out by their publishing industry. In fact, it seems that the low church Evangelical crowd feels free to discern their doctrine from just about any source that reflects what they want to believe.

    I propose to you that the Wesleyan quadrilateral is the functioning epistemology of all Christians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Everybody uses all four of those, and anybody who claims to reject one is in denial. However, different groups prioritize them differently: Charismatics give experience the final word, the Reformed give reason the final say, Rome gives tradition the trump card, and Lutherans give scripture the the highest authority. We are free to use our reason, tradition, and experience in seeking to understand scripture, and we do, but ultimately, they must answer to it.

  16. Don
    February 17th, 2013 at 14:49 | #16

    @Matthew Mills #11
    All of the the Protestant churches deny the efficacy of the means of grace. They teach that Christ is not present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, and they deny that sinners receive forgiveness of sins through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and clerical Absolution. The Protestant churches are totally full of the doctrines of man, and veritable fountains of brand new traditions, of which the Apostles knew nothing.

    Matt.
    “All.” is incorrect. The lutheran teaching is that Christ is present “in with” the host and the wine, and baptism is for infants where it makes them a child of God and in union with him including regeneration and forgiveness. The pastor makes a statement of absolution after the congregation proclaims it is repentant. The sacraments are both considered a means of grace, so you are dead wrong about this!

  17. Bob
    February 17th, 2013 at 18:19 | #17

    Maybe the Peter the Roman prophecy will be fulfilled not by the destruction of the Roman church, but by theRoman church subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions.

  18. Matthew Mills
    February 18th, 2013 at 14:18 | #18

    @Don #16
    Don,
    I wasn’t including Lutherans in w/ Protestants. We’re different. You might want to talk through these issues w/ your pastor. I’d instinctively trust any independent Lutheran Pastor to have a good grasp of the relationship between Wittenberg, Rome and the other-rans.

    @Carl Vehse #14
    What is the source of the vast majority of the heterodox garbage that is currently ripping the LC-MS apart? (I’ll give you a hint: It ain’t Rome.)
    Cheers,
    -Matt Mills

  19. Jim Hamilton
    February 18th, 2013 at 14:35 | #19

    There are only two religions: Christianity, which teaches salvation by God’s grace through faith in the Son without the deeds of the Law, and paganism, which teaches salvation by works. Fortunately it’s possible to be a nominal member of a pagan cult and still be a saved Christian. How many true Christians there are within the pagan groups is of course known only to God. I hope it’s a lot.

  20. Jim Hamilton
    February 18th, 2013 at 14:40 | #20

    We within the true visible church on earth should not be defending Rome and the various false teaching Protestant groups. We should be constantly warning people of the grave dangers of false religions and encouraging people to join our church, that is, the Evangelical Lutheran Church. As long as people stay within heterodox and pagan groups, even those that sprinkle a little truth in with their errors and lies, their eternal salvation is at great risk.

  21. Don
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:01 | #21

    @Matthew Mills #17
    Matt,
    You said, “all” protestants, so that included Lutherans, but now I want to ask two questions, 1) What Lutheran synod are you? 2) Why should I talk through these issues with my pastor, for which I have none? I read and study the Bible.

  22. Don
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:08 | #22

    @Jim Hamilton #19
    Jim,
    Are you talking about ECLA as “our church?” I consider virtually all American denominations to be false, particularly the above so I hope that is not your church.???

  23. Nicholas Leone
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:10 | #23

    @Don #21

    He doesn’t mean the ELCA.

  24. Nicholas Leone
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:14 | #24

    @Matthew Mills #17

    I would say that the Mariolatry alone is enough to render Rome a false church and far less orthodox than the Calvinist churches.

  25. Nicholas Leone
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:20 | #25

    @Don #20

    How can you be a Lutheran if you have no church, no pastor, and don’t take communion?

  26. Carl Vehse
    February 18th, 2013 at 15:47 | #26

    @Matthew Mills #17 : “What is the source of the vast majority of the heterodox garbage that is currently ripping the LC-MS apart?”

    The heterodox garbage comes from ditches on either side, often filled with the same pelagian slop.

  27. Nicholas Leone
    February 18th, 2013 at 16:07 | #27

    @Carl Vehse #25

    And there are crypto-papist “Lutherans” as well, some in the LCMS, and some who have founded this abomination: http://anglolutherancatholic.org/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Lutheran_Catholic_Church

  28. Don
    February 18th, 2013 at 17:01 | #28

    @Nicholas Leone #24
    Nicholas,
    I did not say I was a Lutheran anymore. I once was Missouri and then WELS, but due to extensive study of the Bible I found some of the teachings to be incorrect. I approached the church and the pastor, even writing to WELS in Wisconsin. They never answered my issues. I did meet with my pastor, who was excellent, but he like all pastors have to support the church and its teachings. I spend hours and hours studying and reading and as far as communion goes, we do it at home.

  29. Jim Hamilton
    February 18th, 2013 at 18:35 | #29

    Nicholas, I just checked out the link to the Anglolutherancatholic deal. Seems like parody. Completely bizarre. Thanks for the info.

  30. helen
    February 18th, 2013 at 19:42 | #30

    @Carl Vehse #14
    …1/2 erroneous [?]

    The Baptist preacher I met, valued his “complete sermons of Spurgeon” like confessional Lutherans value the BOC. [Spurgeon is probably easier to crib, too.]

    Then there are the Methodists up in Georgetown, who have a college with a 20 ft stained glass version of Wesley in their chapel chancel… facing, I must add, a matching vision of Dr. Martin Luther! Windows in the nave are dedicated to lesser beings, about a dozen of them. :)

    The Pentecostals I’ve encountered didn’t much run to education or decoration. :(
    Tambourines, rather!

  31. helen
    February 18th, 2013 at 19:54 | #31

    @Don #27
    I did not say I was a Lutheran any more.

    On one of these threads, you said you were “a Martin Luther lutheran”.

    Elsewhere, you contradicted that by saying you don’t accept the creeds. Martin Luther did, also church attendance and regular use of the Supper. [The Lord’s Supper is not properly a lay instituted sacrament in the Lutheran church.]

    All in all, I will accept your statement quoted above.

  32. Don
    February 18th, 2013 at 21:18 | #32

    @helen #30
    By Martin Luther Lutberan I meant I hold him and his knowledge of scriptural discernment to the highest decree of anyone I can name. He taught me how to read the Bible. I respect the Creeds but they are mans words and stem from Roman Catholism. I currently have no church as I cannot find pure unadulterated doctrine. WELS is the closest, but I found flaws.

    John Wesley brought Biblical error to America and it is everywhere.

  33. Matthew Mills
    February 18th, 2013 at 22:18 | #33

    @Don #20
    A severed finger isn’t a body Don, you need a pastor, and you need a church (and so does your family.) 1 Cor 12:12-31, and Hebrews 10:25, are in the Bible Don. I am a member of am LC-MS congregation, and have been a member of LC-MS congregations since I was about 6-weeks old (though I visited for 10-ish months before joining my first one.)

    @Nicholas Leone #23
    Interesting, but it was Zwingli and Oecolampadius w/ whom Luther refused to shake hands, not von Staupitz.

  34. Carl Vehse
    February 19th, 2013 at 08:18 | #34

    @helen #29

    @Carl Vehse #14 “…1/2 erroneous” [?]

    It’s like “less orthodox”. ;-)

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