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The Explanation Of The Apocalypse

v. 1. new. This is the order in which that will take place which he has already spoken of by anticipation, that he “saw one sitting on the throne, from whose face the heaven and the earth fled away;” namely, when the ungodly were judged. Then the fashion of this world will pass away by the conflagration of the supernal fires, that when the heaven and the earth are changed for the better, the incorruption and immortality of holy bodies may have a condition of existence corresponding with the twofold change.

sea. As to what he here says, whether it is dried up in that extreme heat, or whether it also is changed for the better, I could not easily say. For we read of “a new heaven and a new earth” as future, but not also of a new sea. But as it is not unusual in prophetical language to intermix metaphysical with proper terms, it may perhaps be, that he has represented the turbulent life of this age, which will then come to an end, under the name of the sea

2. new Jerusalem. This city is said to “come down from heaven,” for that God made it by heavenly grace.

adorned. For there is another Jerusalem which is not adorned for her husband, but for an adulterer.

3. people. God Himself will be to the elect the reward of eternal blessedness, which, as possessed by Him, they will possess for ever.

4. tears. So great and so exalted will the glory of that city appear from the gift of God, as that there remain in it no vestiges of old age, since both a heavenly incorruption will refine their bodies, and the sight of the eternal King will feed their mind.

death. For he had said that death was cast into the lake of fire. For the same sentence may also be understood thus, that when the holy city is glorified at the last judgment, pain, grief, and mortality only remain in hell.

6. write. These things it behoves to be believed, not explained, especially because he says, that “it is done” of the past, so as not to suffer any one to doubt of the future.

Omega. As He testified at the beginning of the book that He was this, so it had need to be repeated the third time, that “neither before Him,” as Isaiah says, “nor after Him,” should there be believed to be another. And because the discourse is of the end of the world, the finisher of the age Himself, Who is called the Creator, may be understood.

athirst. He now sprinkles believers in the way from the fountain, which, in their own country, He grants to those who overcome to be abundantly drawn forth. And both are a free gift. For “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and “of His fulness have we all received, and grace for grace.”

8. fearful. To introduce a caution, he always mingles with the bland the austere. So also the hundred-and-forty-fourth Psalm, when making known abundantly the grace of the Lord’s mercies, suddenly brings in His severe judgment, saying, “The Lord preserveth all them that love Him, and all sinners will He destroy.” And he joins the fearful with the unbelieving, because he fears to incur the danger of the contest, who doubts of the reward of the conqueror.

liars. He shews that there are many kinds of lying, but that the most dangerous and most detestable is that in which there is sin against religion, concerning which he says above, “They say that they are Jews, and are not, but they lie, for they are the synagogue of Satan.”

9. seven. The same preachers who inflict the sevenfold, that is, the universal plague upon the ungodly, reveal also to the Church the joys that are to come.

bride. He calls the Church the “bride” and “wife,” in that it remains immaculate, and always brings forth spiritual sons to God. Or, this is because she is now betrothed to God, and is then to be brought to an immortal marriage.

10. mountain. After the fall of Babylon, the holy city, which is the bride of the Lamb, is seen placed on a mountain. For the stone “cut out from the mountain without hands,” broke in pieces the image of worldly glory, and became a great mountain, and filled the whole world.

11. glory. For she will then appear more beautiful, when through the Spirit by Whom her husband is believed to have been conceived and born, she has attained to bear fully the heavenly image.

precious. The precious stone is Christ, Who says, “The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them.”

jasper. It is compared with jasper from the whiteness of virtues; to crystal, from the inner purity of the mind, and faith unfeigned.

12. wall. That is, the impregnable firmness of faith, hope, and love. The Lord also Himself Who protects the Church on every side, may be understood to be the wall, of Whom also Isaiah says, “There shall be placed in her a wall and bulwark;” that is, the protection of the Lord, and the intercession of the saints, who make a way for Him by teaching to the heart of believers.

gates. These gates are the Apostles, who primarily, either by writing, or by work, laid open to all nations an entrance into the Church.

angels. These are doctors, who follow the footsteps of the Apostles in the mystery of the faith and word.

names. He signifies the memory of the ancient fathers implanted in the hearts of preachers. And so also the high-priest, when about to enter the tabernacle, was commanded to bear the memorial of the fathers upon the breastplate of judgment.

13. east. By this so elaborate description of the gates, he wished, I suppose, to indicate the mystery of the number twelve, by which, accordingly, either the sum of the Apostles, or the perfection of the Church, may be represented; for that the faith of the Holy Trinity was to be made known by it to the four-square world.

14. foundations. That which the gates are, the same are the foundations; that which the city is, the same are the walls. But the patriarchs may also be signified by the term “foundations,” in that they contained within themselves the names, that is, the figure of the Apostles. For by them, as foundations, although by the Apostles, as by gates, this city has been opened to the nations which shall believe. And it is to be noted, that “the foundations,” when they are spoken of in the plural, signify the doctors, or virtues, of the Church; but when in the singular, the Lord Himself, Who is the foundation of foundations.

15. measure. Christ, Who is the “wisdom of God,” “reaching from one end to another mightily, and ordering all things sweetly,” measures the holy city. For, “ordering all things in number and measure and weight,” He distributes to each one of the faithful the gifts of spiritual graces. The doctors of the Church may also be understood, in that with frail bodies, but heavenly minds, they carefully examine the deserts of every one.

16. foursquare. The city is therefore said to be set in a square, and to be placed of an equal dimension on every side, in that it is not suffered to be marked by any inequality. For “to be perfect,” as the Apostle says, that is, “to be wise, to have peace,” is truly to subsist in the solidity of a square.

furlongs. That is, He beheld the Church, or gave her to be, perfect in faith and deeds. For the perfection of the four principal virtues, exalted by the faith of the Holy Trinity, composes as by the number ten the dignity of the Church.

equal. This is the solidity of invincible truth, by which the Church is not suffered to be “carried about by every wind of doctrine,” as resting upon the length of faith, the breadth of love, the height of hope. And if it has but one the less of these, there will not be the perfect stability of the Church.

17. an hundred and forty-four. This sum contains the square of the number twelve, for twelve times twelve are an hundred and forty-four, and itself also signifies the perfection of the holy city.

a man. The Church exists, as chosen from among men, and as exalted by the promises of Christ it hopes for an equality with angels. But literally he signifies, that the angel appeared to him in the form of a man.

18. building. This is the same with the exhortation of the Apostle Peter, “and be ye, as spiritual stones, built upon spiritual houses.”

glass. The Church is represented by gold, since it is often described as adorned with golden candle-sticks and bowls, because of the attire of wisdom. But he refers the glass to a belief of the truth. For the same that appears without is also within, and there is nothing simulated, and which is not perspicuous, in the saints of the Church. It may also be referred to the time when the thoughts of all towards each other are perspicuous and declared.

19. precious stones. By the names of the several stones is shewn either the form, or the order, or the variety of the virtues, of which the whole heavenly Jerusalem is built up. For it is a difficult thing for each one singly to flourish in all virtues. Finally, Isaiah, in describing the adornment of the same city when he said, “Behold I will lay thy stones in order, and lay thy foundations in sapphires,” and the rest, immediately subjoined, as if in explanation, “All thy children taught of the Lord.”

jasper. here are many kinds of jaspers. For one appears of a green colour, and marked, as it were, with flowers. Another resembles an emerald, but is of an opaque colour, and it is supposed that all phantasms are put to flight by it. Another is glistering, as of a mixed colour, with snow and the foam of sea waves. By the jasper, therefore, is shewn the unfading verdure of faith, which is imbued with the sacrament of the Lord’s Passion by the water of Baptism, and is prepared by increasing deserts for all the flowers of spiritual graces. And he who has this puts to flight vain fears, as the blessed Peter admonishes, “Your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist stedfast in the faith;” and he is able to say with the spouse, “My beloved is white and ruddy.” Therefore with good reason in Isaiah also, the bulwarks of the same city are alike fortified and adorned by this stone and structure of the wall.

sapphire. Moses set forth alike the colour and the sacrament of this stone, when in describing the appearance of God he said, “Under His feet, as it were, a work of a sapphire stone, and as the heaven when it is clear.” Ezekiel also says, that the place in which the throne of God is, “has the likeness of a sapphire,” and that the glory of the Lord consists of this colour, which bears the image of the super-celestial; so that he who is such, is able to say with the Apostle, “But our conversation is in heaven;” and when struck by the rays of the sun, emits a radiant brightness from himself; because the mind of the saints, which is always intent on heavenly things, in that it is daily renewed by the rays of divine light, with more compunction in some sort, and more fervency, diligently seeks for the things eternal, and commends them to others for their seeking. For that it is said to be found in the Red Sea signifies, that by the Passion of the Lord, and the laver of holy Baptism, the minds of mortal men are raised on high, to anticipate the things of heaven.

chalcedony. The chalcedony shines with a pale light, as of the flame of a lamp, and has its brilliancy in the open air, and not in the house. And by it are described those who rest upon a heavenly desire, and yet escape the notice of men, and who practise as in a secret place their fasting, and alms, and prayers; but when they are bidden to go forth for teaching, or other necessities of the saints, shew presently how much brilliancy they have borne within. For that which is said to resist cutting, but to attract bits of chaff if it is struck by the rays of the sun, or is heated by the rubbing of the fingers, deservedly corresponds with those who do not allow their fortitude to be overcome by another; but rather themselves make the weak attain to the privileges of their own light and ardour. And of one of them it is said, “he was a burning and a shining lamp,” burning, that is, in love, shining in discourse. For they always rekindle the light of their virtues with the oil of internal charity, that it may not fail. And that it is produced among the Nasamones, who form a province of Ethiopia, indicates that these under the ardent fervour of love, yet with obscure fame, as with a black skin, are accounted vile.

emerald. The emerald is of so exceedingly deep a green as to surpass all the green herbs, leaves, and gems, and it colours green the air reflected round, and it deservedly increases in greenness although naturally imbued with it. And there are very many kinds of this stone, but the most famous are the Scythian; the Bactrian hold the second place, the Egyptian the third. Accordingly, it represents souls always flourishing in faith, which the more they are tried by the opposition of the world, which is denoted by the cold of Scythia, strive the more to conceive in their mind by hope “the unfading and eternal inheritance which is reserved in heaven,” and extend it to their neighbours by preaching. And these also by the cup of the Lord’s Passion, and the unction of internal charity which is given through the Holy Spirit, advance toward the contempt of the world. With these also the land which is the country of the same stone corresponds in a beautiful manner, a land which is rich but uninhabitable. For although it is plentiful in gold and gems, the whole of it is occupied by griffons, very fierce birds, or rather flying beasts, Since they are fourfooted, and in body indeed are like lions, but in head and wings like eagles. The Arimaspians, who are said to be remarkable for a Single eye in the middle of the forehead, fight with them, that they may obtain these stones, which these creatures seize with wonderful avidity, and the Arimaspians guard. It was to this land, abounding in treasures of virtues, that the Psalmist had gone, when he said, “Behold, I fled away far off, and remained in the wilderness;” that is, by fleeing far off, I withdrew my soul from the allurements of the world. Here he had met with the wild beasts which were opposed to him, when he said, under inspiration, “Let the deceitful lips he made dumb, which speak iniquity against the righteous, in pride and contempt.” Here also he shews that he found desirable riches, in that with gladsome admonition he proceeded to add this, “How great is the abundance of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast laid up in secret for them that fear Thee,” and the rest to the end of the Psalm. Against birds of this kind, which desire greedily to snatch away from us the seed of the divine word, all the saints watch with a single intention through heavenly desire, as if to be admired for one eye; that they may be able to search out and dig up the gem of faith and of all other virtues. For indeed the higher any virtue is, the fewer admirers has it, and the heavier persecution does it endure from unclean spirits, who like horrible griffons, are of the earth in the baseness of their deserts, but of the air in the loftiness of their proud mind; and who strive with unwearied labour not to possess spiritual riches for their own use, but to take them away from men. And because such sublimity of faith has become known to the world through the Gospel, in that there are four books of the Gospel, the emerald is fitly put in the fourth place.

20. sardonyx. This derives its whiteness from the onyx, and redness from the sard, and it has received from the two the name sardonyx. But there are very many kinds of it: for one preserves a likeness to red earth; another appears to be of two colours, as the blood shines through the human nail; another consists of three colours, the lowest black, the middle white, the highest vermillion. And with this are compared men reddened through suffering of the body, white through purity of spirit, but lowly in their own eyes through humility of mind, protesting with the Apostle, “Though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is ‘renewed day by day;” and again, “I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified.” And so also the Psalmist says, “Although man walk in the image” of God, that is, from the power of the mind, “yet he will be disquieted in vain,” that is, from the weakness of the flesh. This suffering also is through the weakness of the body, for they “who kill the body are not able to kill the soul;” and humility descends from the frailness of the same body, when it is said, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The sardonyx is rightly placed in the fifth foundation, for it is certain that our body depends on five senses.

a sard. The sard, which is entirely of a blood-red colour, signifies the glory of martyrs, of which it is said, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and is with reason put in the sixth place, seeing that our Lord was incarnate in the sixth period of the age, and was crucified on the sixth day of the week for the salvation of the whole world.

a chrysolite. The chrysolite shines as if it were gold, with burning sparks. And by the appearance of this stone are represented those who shine through their knowledge of the heavenly wisdom, and who impart to their neighbours the words of exhortation, or even the signs of powers, as sparks of fire. And of these, as Arator says,—

“Their minds with love instinct, their ardent zeal

In words breaks forth.”

And because this is accomplished through the gift of spiritual grace alone, the chrysolite is most becomingly in the seventh foundation. For the grace of the Holy Spirit is wont very commonly to be represented by the number seven, as it is said of Him above, “And from the seven spirits which are before the throne.” And it is consonant also with this sense, that a certain kind of the same stone is found of an azure green colour, whence also among the Hebrews, from the resemblance to the colour of the sea, it is called Tharsis. For greenness appertains to the integrity of faith, which is called “the beginning of wisdom,” but water in a figurative sense to the Holy Spirit, the Lord bearing witness, Who says, “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.”

beryl. The beryl is as if thou shouldest imagine water to be struck by the rays of the sun, and to give out a ruddy and beautiful colour. But it does not shine unless it is shaped by polishing to an hexangular form. For the reflected brightness of the angles is intensified. But it signifies men who are naturally sagacious in intellect, but who shine the more by the light of heavenly grace. For that water designates the depth of understanding, Solomon is witness, who says, “The words of a man’s mouth are as deep water.” But neither human, nor indeed divine wisdom is of perfect brilliancy, unless the consummation of works is superadded. For perfection of action is often designated by the number six, especially as in this number the work of the world was consummated. And in that it is said to burn the hand of one who holds it, this is beyond doubt apparent, that whosoever is united to a holy man is indeed refreshed by the fire of his good conversation.

topaz. As the opportunity is rare for the discovery of this stone, so also is the quantity of the commodity scanty. It is said to have two colours, one of the purest gold, the other shining with ethereal brightness. There is a rosy plumpness, and modest purity. It is close to the chrysoprase in size, or colour, as it is in an especial manner a lamp, when it is struck by the rays of the sun, and surpasses the most precious brilliancy of all gems, and attracts in a singular way the most eager desire of the eyes. And if thou wilt polish it, thou makest it dark; if thou wilt leave it in its own proper nature, it is radiant. This stone is said to be an object of admiration to kings themselves, so that they recognise no possession like it among their riches; and the most beautiful quality of its nature is with the best reason compared with the grace of the contemplative life. For holy kings, “whose heart is in the hand of God,” deservedly prefer this to all the riches of good works, and the gems of virtues; and they direct towards it most of all the glance of their pure thought, and their sight; and they embrace in their mind the more ardently the sweetness of the spiritual life, as they more frequently receive in themselves the reflected splendour of supernal grace. Holy men, therefore, have a golden colour from the flame of internal charity; and they have also an ethereal one from the contemplation of supernal sweetness; and this often deteriorates from the whirl of the present age, as from the rubbing of a file. For in one and the same moment the mind cannot easily be tormented by earthly labours, sorrows, cares, and pains, and behold with delight, in the condition of a tranquil mind, the joys of the heavenly life. Yea, rather it proclaims this by its groans; “Mine eye,” it says, “is confused, because of anger; I have grown old among all mine enemies.” But that it is said to be found in an island, of Thebes, which is named Topazion from whence it has also received its name, is to be understood in two ways; namely, that those regions, that is, of the Egyptians, abound most of all in companies of monks, and that whosoever dwells near the Sun of righteousness is indeed coloured by the brightness of ethereal light. And the gem of contemplative sweetness is beautifully put the ninth in order, as the perfection of active life is the eighth; or, because nine orders of angels, whose life it imitates, are found in holy Scripture; or, because it is removed from the denarius of perfect blessedness by the one step of death. It was for this that the prophet panted with the greatest desire, when he said, “Therefore I have loved Thy commandments above gold and the topaz,” that is, I was delighted with the most sweet love of Thy commandments, above all the glory of approved action, and above all the sublimity of contemplative joy, which can come to pass in this age; and “the first and greatest of these is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy strength.’ ” But it is most certain that this can only be brought to perfection in the height of the heavenly kingdom.

chrysoprase. The chrysoprase has a mixture of green and gold, deriving from it a certain purple gleam, with specks of gold interspersed. It is found in India; and it signifies, that they who well deserve the verdure of the eternal country by the brightness of perfect love, make it manifest also to others by the purple light of their own martyrdom. For since they follow the example of the Lord manifest in the flesh, in that they despise the present life, and prefer eternal glory, they shew even now, as if in India, that is, near the rising of the sun, the brightness of their own deserts. And because they desire to “shine as the sun in the kingdom of the Father,” and there to reign with their King with Whom they now suffer, and wait for this, they are rightly put in the tenth place. For by the denarius, with which the dressers of the Lord’s vineyard are rewarded, is represented the image of the eternal King, which is to be received when, as it could not be in the ninth degree, through the perfect love of God and of our neighbour, the decalogue will in all points be fulfilled.

jacinth. The jacinth is found in Ethiopia, and has an azure colour. The best is that which is neither transparent nor dull from its opacity, but has a clearness from the two qualities, and resembles the sweetly purified flower. It is not always equally glistering, but changes with the face of the sky. For when this is serene, it is clear and pleasing; but when it is cloudy, it pales and becomes dull before the eyes. And it indicates souls which are always given up to heavenly contemplation, and which, in a certain way, and so far as is permitted to mortals, approach the angelical life. These are enjoined, “to preserve the heart with all keeping of observation,” lest on the one hand, with too much subtlety of thought, they dare to inquire into things higher and better than themselves. For, “It is the glory of the Lord to conceal a word.” And this is to philosophise with caution concerning God, and the Man Christ; or, lest on the other hand, through the torpor of sloth, they fall back on the weak beginnings of faith, and “the first principles of the words of God.” Yea, rather let them walk in the pathway of the King, and go on, protected by “the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,” and by a fit observance of the time let them change their face with the sky, and say to the beholders, “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for you.” As a jacinth surrounded by a cloud, he speaks thus, “Ye are not straitened in us, but in your own bowels;” and again, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” And as one seen in a serene light, he says, “But we speak wisdom among those who are perfect.”

amethyst. The amethyst is purple, mixed with a violet colour, and as it were the bloom of the rose, and it emits gently certain small flames. But there appears also to be something in its purple, which is not altogether fiery, but like red wine. So, then, the beautiful tint of the purple designates the condition of the heavenly kingdom, but that of the rose and violet, the lowly modesty and precious death of the saints, namely, in that their mind indeed is chiefly raised on high, even when they are seen outwardly to endure what is vile. For in adversity they are ever mindful of the promise of the Lord,” Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And they not only extend the flame of love to one another, but also to their persecutors themselves. And on their knees they implore, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Moreover, while they drink the cup of passion, they are inebriated instead with the remembrance of the wine “which makes glad the heart of man,” of which the Lord promised, that He would drink it new with them in His Father’s kingdom.”

In the jasper, therefore, is, represented the verdure of faith; in the sapphire the light of heavenly hope; in the chalcedony the flame of internal charity. Again, in the emerald is expressed the bold confession of the same faith in the midst of opposition; in the sardonyx, the humility of the saints amid their virtues; in the sard, the revered blood of martyrs. So in the chrysolyte is shewn spiritual preaching in the midst of miracles; in the beryl, the perfect work of preachers; in the topaz, their fervent contemplation. Moreover, in the chrysoprase are designated at once the work and the reward of the blessed martyrs; in the jacinth, the heavenly exaltation of doctors to things on high, and their humble descent for the sake of the weak to human things; in the amethyst, the continual memory of the heavenly kingdom in the mind of the humble. And each of the precious stones is assigned to a separate foundation. For although all the perfect, by whom the city of our God in His holy mountain is adorned and established, are refulgent with the light of spiritual grace, yet, “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith in the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing in the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” And God. “the builder and maker” of this city, Who is the foundation of foundations, and Who vouchsafed also to be made a High-Priest for us, that He might both cleanse and dedicate the walls of the same city by the offering of His blood, possesses all things as His own, “whatsoever the Father hath.” Therefore, also, the same stones, inscribed too with the names of the twelve patriarchs, were commanded to be placed upon the breast of the high-priest, that in a most beautiful mystery it might be shewn that all the spiritual gifts which each of the saints individually and partially received, were equally and perfectly complete in “the mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ.”

This exposition of the precious stones I seem, perhaps, to have made more fully than the method of interpretation by clauses expressed. For it was necessary to explain carefully their qualities and their country, then to inquire into their sacramental meaning, and further to treat of their order and number. But as regards the profoundness of the subject itself, I seem to myself to have said very few things, and those briefly and summarily. And I suppliantly beseech the reader, if he shall perceive that I have trod in the right path, to give thanks to God; and if he shall discover that it has happened otherwise than as I desired, then to pray for pardon unto my error from the Lord. But these things so far: let us see also those which remain.

21. pearls. All the glory of the Head is imputed to the body. And as “the true light which lighteth every man,” gave to the saints to be “the light of the world;” so also, although He Himself is the matchless pearl which the wise merchant sells all that he has to buy, He nevertheless compares His own with the brightness of pearls.

gold. He forms the streets of the same metals with which he had already said that the city was adorned For there are many, even of a commoner and lower life, who are surrounded with the highest virtues in the Church, and who shine with a purity of mind and an effulgence of work.

22. no temple. Although, he says, I have spoken of the city as built up of stones, I have shewn that the rest of the saints is not in a material building. For God Himself is their only home, and light, and rest.

23. no need. That is, because the Church is not guided by the light, nor the elements of the world, but is conducted by Christ, the eternal Sun, through the darkness of the world.

lighten. This is, we shall enjoy in that country the very light itself, by which we are now guided while we walk in the way; and being made blessed, we shall then perceive only that which is good, through the same by which we are now taught to discern between good and evil.

24. walk. He signifies that the same Lamb Himself is now to travellers the way, Who will then be to citizens the life.

kings. He here means spiritual kings, who bestow all the riches of their virtues upon the praises of the Church.

25. night. He relates that there will be the perpetual light of the Lamb; yea, rather that He Himself will be for an everlasting light in that city when the time of night is taken away. But that the gates will not be shut is a proof of the fullest security. For there it is no longer said, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” but rather, “Be still then, and know that I am God.”

26. bring. It is for this reason that it is to be gathered together from all nations.

27. enter. He describes the Church of that time, When, the bad having already been separated from the midst of it, the good alone will reign with Christ. But even now, too, every one who is unclean and false, is not in the Church, nor sees the light of the city of God, Who hateth him, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

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