|Ignatian Humanism: A Dynamic Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century|
By: Ronald Modras
Ignatian Humanism: A Spirituality for the Twenty-first Century
Book titles commonly call for some explanation. This title all but cries out for one. Virtually every word of it raises questions. First, Ignatian. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, a humanist? If humanism implies anything, it implies a high regard for human freedom. Wasnt it Ignatius Loyola who wrote something to the effect that what he sees as white he will believe to be black if the Catholic Church hierarchy says so? That hardly sounds humanistic. Putting together the words Ignatian and humanism is curious, to say the least. What do I mean by humanism?
Or by spirituality, for that matter? Doesnt spirituality have to do with escaping from lifes temptations and challenges by going off someplace where people pray all day? What does that have to do with life in the twenty-first century? Dont Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits go back to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, when they battled Protestants as part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation? Most Catholics and Protestants have risen above those old quarrels. What does the sixteenth century have to say to the twenty-first? Answers to some of these questions simply raise more questions.
Most of this book is devoted to five Jesuit humanists. In that case, why not just call it Jesuit Humanism? Or, if its about spirituality, why not Jesuit Spirituality? Why Ignatian? Again, for that matter, why Humanism? Most of these questions will be addressed in the chapters that follow. Some will take the entire book to answer adequately. Others, like the last, can be dealt with at the outset.
A book with Ignatian Humanism in the title will not, I hope, mislead librarians into cataloging it next to Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, or Jean-Paul Sartre. This book assumes, on the contrary, that humanism is more encompassing than its narrower, purely secular subspecies. And it makes dual claims. One is that Ignatian spirituality is rooted not in the Catholic Counter-Reformation conflict with Protestantism but in sixteenth-century Renaissance humanism, indeed that its humanistic features are so numerous and intrinsic as to justify calling it a form of humanism. The second claim is that those humanist features make it exceptionally relevant for anyonenot just Roman Catholics and maybe not just Christians eitherlooking for a way to live a responsible spiritual life at the dawn of a new century, in which the only constant seems to be change. For a clearer understanding of the two foregoing claims, the reader deserves some immediate explanation of what I mean by three words under discussion here: spirituality, humanism, and Ignatian. The first two have evolved from ideas that reach back deep into the history of Western culture. They have come to acquire disparate, sometimes competing definitions, necessitating the addition of modifying adjectives that point to their particular historical provenance. The third word is one of those adjectives.
Spirituality is a word moderns tend to identify with matters otherworldly and exotic. It conjures up images of hermits in deserts and gurus on mountaintops. When modified by Catholic adjectives like Benedictine, Carmelite, or Trappist, it brings to mind clicking rosary beads and silent cloisters. In the early 1960s, Protestant theologian Paul Tillich lamented that the words spirit and spiritual had lost any meaning for modern Western culture. Books surveying the religious landscape spoke of secular cities and the death of God. Spirituality was associated with matters pious and churchy. Anyone could see that the churches were in trouble and that the 1960s were anything but pious.
If he were alive today, Tillich would express pleasant surprise at the comeback spirituality has made in the last thirty years in North America but then quickly add, he knew we couldnt do without it. Bookstore shelves are crammed with titles ranging from the classics of Western spirituality to Eastern mysticism, Blessed Mother Teresa, and New Age. Without much reflection on the difference, peoplethe younger generation in particular identify themselves as being spiritual but not religious. Though church life is in decline, interest in spirituality is thrivingwhich is not to say that the moguls of popular culture acknowledge it as something central to the human enterprise. The mass media still tend to see spirituality as a fringe phenomenon best ignored except at Christmas and Easter or at times like the 9/11 terrorist attacks when "God bless America" came so easily to the lips.
The resurgent interest in spirituality merits reflection, if only because it tells us something important about ourselves. At the same time that science and technology are creating new forms of life and already have the basic knowledge and skills to clone human life, we are experiencing a need to talk about ourselves in terms other than DNA molecules and genes. When biologists demonstrate how little genetic difference there is between human beings and higher primates, when anthropologists discover the bones of ancestors that we share with those primates on our evolutionary family tree, we are drawn to focus on that difference. There is something at our core that resists being reduced to merely bigger brains and clever thumbs.
The word spirit is how we talk about that core. The Englishalong with the Italian and Spanishgoes back to the Latin spiritus, which, like its Hebrew and Greek counterparts, has to do with wind, the air we breathe, and, as a result, life. Spirit is what the prescientific ancients saw as the difference between a living person and a corpse. In German, Geist links spirit to the Geisteswissenschaften, the "sciences of the spirit" that study the full range of human endeavor and its achievements. The French esprit suggests that spirit has something to do with being fully alive. All these cognates give us some idea why spirit and spirituality resisted being swept into the dictionarys dustbin for obsolete words. They point to something inalienable and central to who we are. They point to that difference, that something more, that makes it possiblehow did someone put it?for the rubbing of horsehair over gut to come out as Beethovens First Violin Sonata. They point to that which makes us unique . . . which makes us human.
It is also in that dimension we call the human spirit that we experience what we in the West, under the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition, call the Holy Spirit. That familiar but confusing compound is translated more prosaically as holy wind or holy breath. Because the Hebrew for holy (qadosh) refers to that which is out of the ordinary, Holy Spirit became the way the Hebrew and Christian scriptures talk about God not far off in some seventh heaven but as a mysterious power (like the wind) that is beyond the ordinary and yet experienced as a presence (like the breath we inhale and feel deep within us).
Spirituality is about the experience at the core of our beings of something a power, presence, drive, longingthat is beyond the ordinary. Defined in this way, spirituality is not about something at the fringes of human life. It is not a leisure-time activity or option for people with a taste for the exotic. It is about what one thoughtful author has called the "holy longing" or "dis-ease" (St. Augustine called it a "restlessness") at the heart of human life.1 It is about the eros, the energy or drive within us that shapes our actions and ultimately our lives. Seeing spirituality this way makes it a "nonnegotiable," more basic than religion:
Long before we do anything explicitly religious at all, we have to do something about the fire that burns within us. What we do with that fire, how we channel it, is our spirituality. Thus, we all have a spirituality, whether we want one or not, whether we are religious or not. Spirituality is more about whether or not we can sleep at night than about whether or not we go to church. It is about being integrated or falling apart, about being within community or being lonely, about being in harmony with Mother Earth or being alienated from her.2
This view of spirituality is obviously at odds with those who see it as something only for churchgoers or devotees of the paranormal. But does that make it so broad as to become meaningless? Is it an abuse of the word to say that people who do not pray are spiritual? (Whether or not their spirituality is adequate or complete is another question.) But how else do we take people at their word when they say that they are spiritual though not religious? How else do we interpret Albert Einstein, when though not one to frequent a synagoguehe tells us that, as a scientist, he wanted to know Gods thoughts? How else do we understand Spinoza, the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher, being regarded both as an atheist and as "God-intoxicated"? How else do we explain researchers who make their science a religion, or self-styled atheists with a totally selfless commitment to justice? For the prescientific ancients, spirit was what held a body together, keeping it from disintegrating. For us moderns, as individuals or in communities, spirituality can still be a way of talking about what holds us together, what keeps us from disintegrating.
Humanism is another word with a complicated history. But it has an even wider range of possible meanings that, if left unmodified, make it hopelessly ambiguous, some might even say useless. To resolve the difficulty, some authors argue that its unmodified use should be restricted to the eighteenth-century Enlightenments rejection of religion and to themselves the modern proponents of that rejectionwho would include signatories of the 1933 and 1973 Humanist Manifestos; the members of various national humanist leagues, such as the American Humanist Association, which publishes The Humanist, and those who agree with the notion that humanism constitutes an alternative to religion with a term less negative than atheism.
Atheistic (a.k.a. secular, rational, or ethical) humanists are not the only ones to advocate limiting the word exclusively to themselves. There are conservative Christians of various churches and denominations who happily cede the word to secularists for the sake of having an unambiguous label for the enemy camp. Televangelists of this stripe, for example, blame all that is wrong in America and modern culturefrom public education to the feminist movementon humanism, regarding it with the same animosity as they do liberalism, their other (or is it the same?) bête noire.
Despite such efforts at simplification, however, humanism remains stubbornly ambiguous. The Oxford English Dictionary offers several different subdefinitions, which one scholar of the words usage and history finds to be only a fraction of the various senses and contexts in which it has been applied. Its range extends, as he puts it, "from the pedantically exact to the cosmically vague." One of those vague but, I would argue, legitimate extended meanings refers to humanism as an evaluation of human achievements and cultivation of human enrichment. But in addition to that nondescript, nonthreatening definition are meanings that carry powerful positive or negative connotations, depending on ones ideological allegiance.3
The word, in a word, is loaded. For those who salute it, humanism stands for human freedom and dignity, synonymous with the best of modern Western culture. At the other end of the playing field, postmodern critics of the Enlightenment fault the word for masking its users restriction of full dignity and freedom to a particular race (white), gender (male), and class (fellow aristocrats, landowners, or nationals). Like the Athenian Greeks whom they emulated, the colonial founding fathers who announced American independence with a declaration that "all men are created equal" owned slaves. In the course of Western history, full humanity at various times has been denied to women, children, those who did not speak Greek (or more recently English), and Jews. For its critics (like Theodor Adorno), the Enlightenments rationalist, humanist enterprise came to its logical conclusion at Auschwitz. For more recent postmodern critics of the word (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida), the humanity to which humanism appeals and on which it is based is little more than a pretentious metaphor.
Thats a lot of baggage for a word first coined to describe an academic reform. In the early nineteenth century, a group of German educators began promoting a curriculum that gave pride of place to what they regarded as the wellsprings of Western civilization and culture, the literary classics and achievements of ancient Greece and Rome. They called their program Humanismus, a word evocative of the Italian Renaissance umanisti, who advocated replacing Aristotle and scholastic theology with the study of Cicero, Virgil, and other Latin and Greek classic texts. The fifteenth- and sixteenth-century umanisti were speech and letter writers for the nobility and ruling magistrates of their day. But they were also the teachers of grammar, rhetoric, history, and ethics, who cultivated what they calledborrowing a phrase from Cicerothe studia humanitatis, or what today we call the humanities. Needless to say, the word has wandered far beyond the precincts of academe or the fifteenth-century Italian taste for literature.
Renaissance humanism will be treated at some length in chapter 2 of this book. Suffice it for now to say that virtually all the Renaissance humanists were practicing Christians. They did not renounce religion or Christian faith. But they did criticize the Latin style and pedagogy of the "scholastics," who dominated university faculties at the time. And some humanists could be quite forthright in criticizing the state of the church, clergy, and popular piety, most notable among these being the acerbic priest Erasmus and his friend Thomas More. Both, though critical Catholics, would stoutly rebuff any aspersions cast on their Catholic loyalty or humanist credentials. Other Christians with substantial humanist claims are, to name but a few, Florentine Platonist Pico della Mirandola, Luis Vives and Fray Luis de León in Spain, Jacques Lefévre dEstaples in France, and John Milton and John Donne in England. The word can also be justifiably ascribed to more recent, though heterogeneous, Christian thinkers such as Gabriel Marcel, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich, and (Erasmus redivivus?) Hans Kung.4 Obviously humanism cannot be simply identified with irreligion.
But what do the ideas and writings of the above Christian humanists have to do with those heroes of secular humanism for whom Christianity and the church were not objects of loyal criticism but contempt? One thinks here of Diderot (for whom Christianity was "the Great Prejudice"), David Hume ("Christian superstition"), and Voltaire ("écrase linfame"). Humanists less polemical but just as averse to all forms of religion were Karl Marx ("opium" for the oppressed masses) and Sigmund Freud ("neurosis"). Clearly we have here two very different strains of a bifurcated intellectual tradition, both laying claim to be legitimate heirs of the Renaissance humanists.
The genesis of the secular humanist tradition is to be found in the writings of the eighteenth-century British freethinkers and French philosophes who made up what came to be called the "Age of Reason" or "Enlightenment" (siècle de lumières; Aufklärung). The Renaissance umanisti had immersed themselves in alternative topics of interest (the humanities) from the narrower, theological discourse (divinity) of the Middle Ages. The events of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries contributed to transforming that alternative taste into a distaste for religious discourse altogether.
The religious wars that followed the Reformation and the imposing achievements of scientific reason (Copernicus, Galileo, Newton) gave ample grounds for Enlightenment philosophers to forego interest in contentious religious doctrines and concentrate on matters human and empirical. (Alexander Pope summed up the attitude of the age famously: "Presume not God to scan; the proper study of Mankind is Man.") Those in England who did give thought to religion gave rise to Deism, which rejected revealed religion in the name of reason and a natural theology that was sure that God and the afterlife were quite capable of rational demonstration (John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity; John Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious). From first polite and then undisguised indifference to religion, there followed the hostile contempt exemplified by Diderot, Hume, and Voltaire, cited above.
In Germany, Immanuel Kant put an end to natural theology with his critique of rational attempts to prove the existence of God or an afterlife. He also formulated what became the classical definition of Enlightenment as emancipation from religious authorities who would presume to shackle human reason ("the end of humankinds self-imposed infancy"). Without dwelling any further on its historical evolution, secular humanism today can be described in terms of four basic assumptions. As articulated by a leading historian and representative of secular humanism, those four assumptions are: that we humans are on our own, that this life is all there is, that we are all responsible for our own lives, and that we are responsible for the lives of our fellow human beings.5 One will notice that these are all faith assumptionsbut a faith, their author would argue with a nod to Kant, within the limits of reason alone.
The Enlightenment tradition uncoupled the concept of human dignity from its moorings in the biblical belief that human beings are created in the "image of God." It has been argued (John Pawlikowski) that this disconnect and the "death of God" in Western culture (Friedrich Nietzsche) are what made it possible for the Nazis to attempt to overthrow the Judeo-Christian values that underpinned European civilization, providing the most horrific example of what has been called the "anti-humanism" of modernity.6Totalitarian nation-states came to claim the allegiance once reserved for religion. But the issue need not be belabored here. This book is not a critique of the Enlightenment or secular humanism. It seeks rather to illustrate an alternative humanist tradition, one, I would argue, with equal claim to the title and the Renaissance legacy.
The ambiguity of the word humanism, left unmodified, should be clear enough by now. There are too many disparate kinds of humanism, which may share enough features to justify the generic noun but still differ enough to require adjectival specification. Chapter 2 will look in some detail at those common features. Several of the specifying adjectives have already been encountered. There is, of course, the original Renaissance or literary humanism, and the classical humanism of Greece and Rome that the umanisti emulated. There is Enlightenment or secular humanism, also referred to, according to ones preferred nuance, as scientific, rational, atheistic, agnostic, or ethical humanism.
The term religious humanism is no less ambiguous than the unmodified noun, since theists and nontheists alike have used it to describe themselves. Christian humanism (which secular humanists generally regard as an oxymoron) stands alongside Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish humanisms. (Martin Buber, Abraham Heschel, and Emmanuel Levinas come to mind as Jewish humanists; Gandhi as a Hindu humanist.) Other kinds of humanism one finds in the literature are German romantic, liberal, existentialist, Marxist, philanthropic, and socialist. And, as if those adjectives were not enough, here I am suggesting anotherIgnatian.
In this book I will try to make the case that the spirituality that began with Ignatius Loyola and the founding of the Society of Jesus was and remains so deeply imbued with distinctive features it absorbed from the Renaissance humanism of the day that it deserves to be called a kind of humanism. I will illustrate how this humanism has evolved over the centuries, thanks to an aptitude for accommodation prized in Renaissance education and inherent in the spirituality and ethos of the Society of Jesus (hence the "dynamic" in the books subtitle). But if that is the case, why Ignatian humanism? Why not Jesuit? Because Ignatian spirituality is broader than the Jesuit spirituality embodied in the Society of Jesus. One does not have to be a Jesuit to embrace the principles and practices of Ignatian spirituality.
Ignatian spirituality has its origins in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Jesuit spirituality does too, but also in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, which give it a decidedly distinctive coloring. The Jesuits are a religious order of men tied together by vows, including a distinctive fourth vow that gives them a special relationship to the popes. Ignatian spirituality embraces a wider spectrum of adherentslaymen and laywomen without vows, non-Jesuit diocesan priests, congregations of religious women founded by Jesuits and influenced by their spirituality, in fact anyone who has taken the time to make the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises either completely or in part. That means not only Roman Catholics but also a variety of Christians who have no ecclesial ties to the bishops of RomeAnglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, members of the United Reformed Church, Mennonites, and Quakers.7 All of these non-Jesuits constitute what I like to call, borrowing a phrase from the (1995) Thirty-fourth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, the "extended Ignatian family."8
Though not a Jesuit, I consider myself a member of this family on a number of counts. I have taught at a Jesuit university for nearly a quarter of a century and try to provide my students with the vision and values of a Jesuit education. Several years ago, over the course of nine months, I made the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in a so-called (nineteenth annotation) "retreat in daily life." It was during the course of that experience that I decided to research and write this book for anyone, like myself, drawn to or interested in Ignatian spirituality. The members of that group for whom this book is not specifically intended are the Jesuits themselves, although even those learned men may discover some forgotten nugget of wisdom among the familiar chestnuts or a new insight gleaned from a perspective more distant than theirs.
In addition to readers drawn to Ignatian spirituality, this book is also for my colleagues and students at Saint Louis University; their counterparts at other Jesuit colleges and universities; alumni, boards of trustees, and supporters of Jesuit institutions; in short, anyone involved in Jesuit education or ministry. That includes my Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist colleagues and students and those uncertain of any faith, whoperhaps without knowing why (though I hope this book will help give some answers)find themselves at home in a Jesuit academic setting.
Thats a good reason why Ignatian spirituality deserves to be called a kind of humanism, and why Ignatian humanism needs to be seen in the broader context of a "spiritual humanism," as I have called it elsewhere.9 There are persons I know whose spiritual eros or energy is not nourished or directed by any church or organized religion, but whose integrity, commitment to justice, and concern for the needs of their fellow human beings all bespeak a depth appropriately described as spiritual. Ignatian humanism I will try to show in the chapters that followargues for a God at work in the lives of people even when they give up on religion or the notion of God.
The organization of my argument is simple enough. The first chapter describes Ignatian spirituality in the context of its origins in the life of Ignatius Loyola. The second outlines the characteristics of Renaissance humanism and their influence on Ignatian spirituality and the founding of the Society of Jesus. Chapters 3 through 7 will illustrate how that humanism has continued to evolve, exemplified in the lives and ideas of several notable Jesuits. These are Matteo Ricci, who pioneered interreligious, intercultural dialogue in China; Friedrich Spee, a pre- Enlightenment champion of human rights; scientist and visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Karl Rahner, who plumbed the theological depths implied by Ignatian spirituality; and Superior General Pedro Arrupe, who brought the Society of Jesus into a new era by returning it to its roots. A concluding chapter will attempt to draw together the lessons of the preceding chapters, arguing that the Ignatian humanism that has evolved over the centuries has a distinctive relevance for our own times.
In virtually every sphere of cultural criticism, analysts seem agreed, we are living in a time of transition. The by-now-overused word postmodern however one defines itpresupposes that an era has come to an end. Whether it happened in World War I, at Auschwitz, or Hiroshima, the rationalist dogmas that constituted the foundation of modern Western culture have come into question. We no longer take it for granted that progress is inevitable or that science and technology alone will save us. Our computers give us more information than we know how to handle. The Hubble telescope brings onto our living room coffee tables color photographs of galaxies colliding and stars being born millions of light-years away. People from continents and cultures once oceans away now move into our neighborhoods and study or work at desks across the hall.
For the closest analogue to our own day, I would suggest, one must look to the Renaissance. That too was a time of wider horizons and new knowledge overturning former certitudes. Though it looked to the past for guidance, the Renaissance became the bridge to modernity. We in the postmodern, early twenty-first century could do worse for guidance than to look to the Renaissance and its humanist values, as embodied in Ignatian spirituality. Ignatian humanism may not be the answer for everyone looking to live a responsible twenty-first century spirituality or faith-life. I dont claim it is the only way, but it is one way. Its humanism is an aspect of Ignatian spirituality that I personally find helpful and appealing, one that I trust the reader will too.
I dont claim that this book tells the whole story of Ignatian spirituality (let alone Jesuit history), or that the Jesuit humanists I treat here even begin to exhaust the possibilities. Other candidates worthy of consideration are scientists Christopher Clavius (who designed the now universally adopted Gregorian calendar), Athanasius Kircher (Egyptologist and inventor of an early film projector), and Roger Boscovich (who in the eighteenth century anticipated modern atomic theory by more than a hundred years). In the arts, poet Gerard Manley Hopkins comes to mind, as well as the lesser known Domenico Zipoli, who in 1716 gave up composing Baroque oratorios for Italians to write music for natives at Jesuit missions in what are now Paraguay and Bolivia. An entire book could be written on American Jesuit humanists like pioneers Jacques Marquette, Pierre De Smet, and Eusebio Kino. Pioneering intellectuals in such a book would include freedom of conscience champion John Courtney Murray; ecumenist Gustave Weigel; and philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan. But arbitrariness is unavoidable in an enterprise such as this, and an author must draw lines somewhere.
My only regret is that, in telling the story of Ignatian humanism, I find myself writing exclusively about Jesuits and therefore celibate males. Women were among the most formative influences on the life of Ignatius Loyola. (It is doubtful he would have survived his reckless penitential excesses were it not for the women of Manresa.) Women were among his earliest supporters and among the first to "make" his Spiritual Exercises. His letters to women fill a hefty volume.10 But until recently, Jesuits were almost the only interpreters and developers of Ignatian spirituality. Happily, that is changing.11 The histories of the many religious orders of women inspired by Ignatian spirituality have yet to be written. I would hope that a volume like this one might encourage research in that direction, enriching the concept of Ignatian humanism with a feminist perspective.
Books this wide-ranging do not get written without help from generous colleagues. Nor in this instance, from a generous and supportive university. When I conceived the idea that eventually became the Shared Vision video series on Jesuit education, it was J .J. Mueller and Thomas Rochford who collaborated in refining and realizing the project, Saint Louis University that underwrote it, and Jesuits James Blumeyer and Lawrence Biondi who supported it. Research on Shared Vision prompted me to write a 1995 article in America magazine entitled "The Spiritual Humanism of the Jesuits." Among the letters in response to that article came a suggestion to expand it into a book. The rest, as they say, is history.
I am particularly grateful to Saint Louis University for financial support in the way of research grants from its Marchetti and Mellon Funds and for a research leave and sabbatical that allowed me to bring this book to a timely conclusion. My sincere thanks also to the staff of the universitys Pius XII library, especially archivists John Wade and Randy McGuire and theology specialist Ronald Crown, and to my research assistants over the last several years, Andy Matthews, Dennis Durst, Brett Huebner, and Daniel Dunivan. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the inspiration afforded me by Renaissance historian John OMalley, whose book on the first Jesuits intrigued me enough to venture a book along these lines.
Colleagues and friends who have been willing to read and offer helpful criticism of parts of this manuscript or who have made helpful suggestions include Bernhard Asen, Claudia Carlen, Paul Coutinho, Marian Cowan, Philip Fischer, David Fleming, Paul Garcia, Mary Garvin, Philip Gavitt, Dolores Greeley, John Haught, Thomas King, Vincent OKeefe, John Padberg, Robert Phillips, Carl Starkloff, Bill Stauder, Kenneth Steinhauser, James Voiss, Xiaoxin Wu, and the members of the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality, in particular Robert Bireley and G. Ronald Murphy. I wish to acknowledge George Lane, Jim Manney, my copy editor Rebecca Johnson, and the staff at Loyola Press for their support of this project. Special thanks too to my manuscript editor, L. B. Norton, for her sharp eye and wise counsel. Any shortcomings in these pages are, of course, my responsibility and not theirs. Finally, for the English teachers skills she honed in a previous life and for her unflagging moral support in this one, my love and thanks to my wife, Mary Elizabeth Hogan. This book is dedicated to those colleagues and students at Saint Louis University who have enriched both our lives with their spirituality, humanism, and friendship.
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