Early Leadership and Life

In concluding his Letter to the Romans, Paul begins with 'our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church', speaks of those who 'work' to spread the good news, and greets twenty-six people, twenty-four of them by name. As much as any passage in the NT, the final chapter of Romans raises the question: was the Church meant to be a completely egalitarian community, free of any kind of subordination to office-holders and hierarchical authorities? Did the vision of Jesus and the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit exclude the

Fig. 1. A fifteenth-century mural of the 'mystical supper' from Paleochorio (Cyprus) shows Jesus majestically celebrating the Passover on the night before he died. (Sonia Halliday Photographs.)

Fig. 1. A fifteenth-century mural of the 'mystical supper' from Paleochorio (Cyprus) shows Jesus majestically celebrating the Passover on the night before he died. (Sonia Halliday Photographs.)

Dura Europos Murales

institutionalized leadership, which occurred in the subsequent transmission of a threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons? Did that historical development betray Jesus' original dream of a community of male and female disciples as co-partners variously empowered by the Holy Spirit to minister to the whole community? In its normative, first-century period was the Church directly governed by the Holy Spirit and did it flourish without supervisory authorities or any official establishment? Or was there always some kind of leadership which rightly developed and was handed on to successive generations for the good of all? We can put the issue in terms of the thesis proposed by Willi Marxsen, Siegfried Schulz, and some other twentieth-century scholars: 'early Catholicism', a deterioration they already detect in Acts, the Pastoral Letters, and other NT writings. This thesis claims that the good news proclaimed by Jesus and Paul suffered inasmuch as a structured institution emerged to dispense salvation through ministerial ordination, a hierarchical succession of leaders, set forms of doctrine, and a re-established law.5 Without thinking their way through any such sophisticated thesis as 'early Catholicism', some instinctively presuppose that the earlier situation must, for that very reason alone, be the more authentic. Some (or even many?) continue to subscribe, unthinkingly, to the old myth of an original purity, corrupted by a subsequent history of decline. The 'real' or the 'true' is found only at the start. On our guard against such a myth, what can we discern about the situation of Jesus and the post-resurrection developments?

If we begin with the Gospels, we find multiple witness for the fact that during his ministry Jesus chose twelve disciples from among the wider ranks of his followers and gave them some kind of authoritative office and leadership role. In so doing, Jesus revealed his intention to reform and transform the people of Israel, understood to constitute twelve tribes or groups descended from Jacob (Gen. 35: 22—6). Mark attests the original call and subsequent mission of the twelve (Mark 3: 13—19; 6: 7—13). Q, a collection of sayings of Jesus that both Matthew and Luke draw from,6

See J. D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 2nd edn. 1990), 341—66; G. O'Collins and D. Kendall, The Bible for Theology (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997), 101-16.

Although some NT scholars dispute the existence of such a collection of sayings behind the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Q still seems to most scholars the best working hypothesis about the immediate origin of sayings that are common to these two Gospels. See F. Neirynck, 'Synoptic Problem', in R. E. Brown et al. , New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990), 587-95.

reflects the existence of this core group (Matt. 19: 28 = Luke 22: 30). They are 'in place' to receive a foundational appearance of the risen Christ, a fact first attested by a traditional formula cited by Paul (1 Cor. 15: 5) and subsequently narrated in varying ways by the Easter chapters of the Gospels. The Twelve are given by Christ authority to lead and teach in his name, an authoritative role for which, as Luke and (in his own way) John indicate, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Their apostolic mission shares in and comes from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What do the Pauline letters indicate about leadership in the Church? A dramatic encounter with the risen Christ (and not as such with the Holy Spirit) made Paul himself an apostle who proclaims the resurrection of the crucified Jesus (1 Cor. 9: 1—2; 15: 8—11; Gal. 1: 11—12, 15—17). Paul's forceful sense of his own apostolic authority comes across clearly, not least in his Letter to the Galatians. After founding communities, he exercises remote-control authority over them through his letters and occasional visits. But how does he understand the authority of others in the growing Church? In his first letter Paul distinguishes between those who 'preside' and those who 'defer' (1 Thess. 5: 12). A little later he notes how, within the whole 'body of Christ', God has appointed various persons to be apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers in different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12: 8—12, 28—30). The apostle's language in 1 Corinthians 12 has encouraged some to envisage a Spirit-filled community with no permanent institutions and ordained officers, a charismatic 'pneumatocracy' as opposed to an institutional 'christocracy'. But does Paul in 1 Corinthians 12—14 intend to make permanent prescriptions for the Church's ordering, by opposing charisms to institutions and offices or what is pneumatological and charismatic to what is christological and institutional? It seems rather that he intends to give some practical advice to the Corinthian community and help solve some particular challenges facing them.7 The eight ministries of 1 Corinthians 12: 28 become five in another list, from a 'deutero-Pauline' letter or one perhaps written by an associate of the apostle after his death: 'his [Christ's] gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers' (Eph. 4: 11). The list now includes

See E. Nardoni, 'Charism in the Early Church since Rudolph Sohm: An Ecumenical Challenge', Theological Studies , 53 (1992), 646—62.

the 'evangelists' or official messengers/preachers of the good news (see Rom. 10: 8—17).

The foundation of many local churches by apostles and others brought a shift in leadership, when settled pastors (called 'overseers', 'elders', and 'deacons') took over from the missionary apostles, the other evangelists, and the founders among whom had been the 'pillars' of Galatians 2: 9. A range of NT sources reflect this movement from missionary preachers to settled, pastoral leaders (Acts 20: 17, 28; Phil. 1: 1; 1 Pet. 5: 1—4; the Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus), even if many details about the appointment of the latter, their leadership functions, and their relationship to the travelling missionaries remain obscure.

The Pastoral Letters, when recording a more developed organization of ministries, speak of 'overseers' or 'bishops' and their qualifications (1 Tim. 3: 1-7; see Titus 1: 7-9), of the 'elders' or 'presbyters' to be appointed by Titus 'in every town' (Titus 1: 5-6; see 1 Tim. 5: 17-20), and of the qualities appropriate for 'deacons' (1 Tim. 3: 8-10, 12-13), and apparently also for deaconesses (1 Tim. 3: 11).8 There is some indication about succession in teaching authority (2 Tim. 2: 2). Much is stated about the teaching, preaching, defence of sound doctrine, administration, and domestic behaviour expected from leaders. But apart from some passing regulations concerning worship (1 Tim. 2: 1-2, 8) and several references to the 'laying on of hands' (1 Tim. 5: 22; see 1 Tim. 4: 14; 2 Tim. 1: 6), nothing further is said about the liturgical life of the community and, for instance, about the roles taken by these leaders (or others) in baptizing and celebrating the Eucharist.

An examination of the NT supports then the conclusion: the Christian communities, both in the apostolic situation (AD 30-70) and in the sub-apostolic situation (AD 70-100), were characterized by a measure of organization which, along with the basic equality of all the baptized, comprised the leaders (with their gifts and institutionalized offices) and the led (with their personal charisms). These communities were not simply egalitarian. Today some Christians read the scriptures with deep

8 Acts reports 'elders' alongside 'the apostles' in Jerusalem (Acts 11: 30; 15: 2, 4, 6, 22—3; 16: 4). When Paul visits Jerusalem for the last time, no 'apostles' are mentioned but only 'all the elders' alongside James (Acts 21: 18). Acts 6: 1—6 reports the appointment of seven men to 'serve' (diakonein ) in the administration of the Jerusalem community. One of them (Stephen), however, works wonders and proves an outstanding speaker (Acts 6: 8—10) before being put on trial and martyred. Another (Philip) becomes a wandering preacher and miracle-worker (Acts 8: 4—40).

suspicion, play down the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the foundational period of the Church, and deny the authority of some, especially the later, books of the NT. A sharp, anti-Gnostic observation of St Irenaeus (c.130—c.200) may apply here: 'When the heretics are refuted from the scriptures, they turn to accusing the scriptures themselves, as if there was something amiss with them' (Adversus Haereses, 3.2). Irenaeus encouraged allegiance to the normative voice of the scriptures when facing the question of the Church's structure and other such critical issues. We return to him shortly.

The last paragraph may have put matters too sharply. But we meet here what we might call a 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' parting of the ways. A 'Protestant' reading can dismiss the later NT books as representing a regrettable decline into 'Early Catholicism' and appeal to the earliest forms of Christian community, to the extent that they can be identified and recovered. A 'Catholic' reading is comfortable with the patterns of organization emerging in the later NT writings and flowing into the post-NT developments.

We find in St Ignatius of Antioch (d. c.107) a key witness to the emerging organization of Catholic Christianity. The first to have used the expression 'the Catholic Church' (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8. 2), this martyr stressed unity of Christians and obedience to their monarchical or single presiding bishop. Evidently by the early second century bishops headed the various Christian communities in Asia Minor. Ignatius understood the bishops not only to lead the celebration of the Eucharist and maintain (against early Gnostics) the centrality of Christ's bodily incarnation but also to approve the marriages of Christians. He wrote in his Epistle to Polycarp: men and women who marry should 'enter the union with the consent of the bishop; thus their marriage will be acceptable to the Lord and not just gratify lust' (5. 2). Ignatius was put to death in Rome, where he recognized 'a Church worthy of God, worthy of honour', and 'presiding in love' (Epistle to the Romans, opening greeting). But he mentioned no bishop of Rome, which—along with other evidence—may suggest that the system of a monarchical bishop at the head of the local community had not yet clearly developed there as the normative form of Church government.9

9 See E. Duffy, 'Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?', New Blackfriars , 80 (1999), 301—8. Whatever we conclude about Rome, Ignatius of Antioch states firmly that one cannot speak of a 'church' unless it has a bishop , presbyters, and deacons (Epistle to the Trallians , 3. 1). On the development of the episcopacy in the early Church, see F. A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001); on Rome, see P. Lampe, Die stadtrömische Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1987).

By the late second century Irenaeus was to defend episcopal succession, with bishops enjoying the sanction of apostolic authority, on the basis of the 'rule of faith'. His championing of a public rule entailed (a) rejecting the new, Gnostic 'scriptures', (b) recognizing the mainstream Christian scriptures (in particular, the four Gospels), and (c) defending the episcopal office held in succession when the ministry of the apostles gave rise to a continuous line of ordained bishops. Irenaeus acknowledged an authoritative continuity in the orthodox teaching of bishops succeeding one another and proclaiming the one faith and one tradition of the apostles. This rule of faith belonged to the worldwide Church, in which episcopal succession could be traced back to the apostles—something Irenaeus did for the sees of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome, 'the greatest and oldest church' (Adversus Haereses,, 3. 1—4). He criticized fiercely the secret, anti-hierarchical, and anti-apostolic position of the Gnostics:

They oppose tradition, claiming to be wiser not only than the presbyters [i.e. the bishops] but even than the apostles, and to have discovered the truth undefiled. The apostles, they say, mingled with the Saviour's words matter belonging to the Law; and besides this, the Lord himself uttered discourses some of which derived from the Demiurge, some from the intermediate Power, some from the Highest, whereas they themselves know the hidden mystery without doubt, contamination, or admixture. (Ibid. 3. 2. 2)

In Ch. 3 we will return to the issue of scripture and tradition, which was central in Irenaeus' polemic against the Gnostics. His understanding of the Holy Spirit was not yet sufficiently elaborated to appreciate clearly the Holy Spirit as the primary bearer of the Church's tradition and life. His principle, 'where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God' (ibid. 3. 24. 1), formed a sound starting-point but needed considerable filling out.

Respect for authority and concern for unity identify Catholic Christianity from the time of Paul, Ignatius, and Irenaeus. The NT Letter to the Ephesians celebrated the unity of first-century believers: 'There is one Body and one Spirit, even as you were called to the one hope which belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all' (Eph. 4: 4—6). But how were the scattered communities to remain together in the 'one faith' and 'one hope' to which they knew themselves to be called? By the end of the first century

AD there were probably less than 10,000 Christians, who made up around fifty communities—from Spain (perhaps), southern France (perhaps), Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, North Africa, Egypt, the Middle East, and beyond in Iran and India. Besides the work of such itinerants as Prisca and Aquila, Christian leaders met the challenge of maintaining contact and unity in basic beliefs and practice by a steady exchange of letters. Paul had left an extraordinary example, with letters that strikingly exceeded in length what was customary in the ancient world. Even his shortest letter, that to Philemon (only 25 verses), went beyond the average letter composed by Greek- and Latin-speaking writers of his time. As well as the Pauline correspondence, the NT contains seven letters attributed to others, one of which, First Peter, was sent from Rome to the Christians dispersed here and there in Asia Minor or what is now Turkey. The author of the Book of Revelation sent his work from the island of Patmos to seven Christian communities, also found in what is now Turkey (Rev. 1: 9). A few years later, on his way to be martyred in Rome, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in what was then the Roman province of Syria, wrote seven letters: six to particular Christian communities and one to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was himself to be burned alive about AD 156. Recalling Peter and Paul, the two great leaders martyred in Rome some forty years earlier, Ignatius pleaded with the Roman Christians not to hinder his martyrdom: 'Suffer me to become the food of wild beasts; through them I can reach God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may become the pure bread of Christ' (Epistle to the Romans, 4. 1).

Persecution and martyrdom, particularly that of leaders, began very early in the history of Christianity. In AD 44 James the son of Zebedee suffered martyrdom by being beheaded by Herod Agrippa I. Paul lists the imprisonments, floggings, and other sufferings he had already undergone by the late 50s (2 Cor. 11: 23—7). Before his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Christ, he himself had acquiesced in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7: 55—8: 1). In AD 62 the Jerusalem community lost its leader when St James was stoned to death. In his Annals (15. 44) the Roman historian Tacitus tells the gruesome story of Christians killed as scapegoats by the Emperor Nero in AD 64. Right from the first centuries various authentic records of martyrdoms have survived. The Passion of St Perpetua describes how she and other Christians in Carthage were mauled by wild beasts and then had their throats cut in AD 203, during a persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus.

When Church leaders met for the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, not a few of them showed the marks of recent persecution on their bodies. The hands of Paul of Neocaesarea had been paralysed by hot irons. Hosius, the bishop of Cordoba (d. 360) who acted as Emperor Constantine's adviser at the Council, and St Eustathius (bishop of Antioch 324—30) had both suffered during the cruel persecution of Maximin Daza (d. 313). Two Egyptian bishops had each lost an eye. One of them, St Paphnutius (d. 360), had also been hamstrung. His scarred body evoked the veneration of the bishops and others present; Emperor Constantine showed respect by kissing his mutilated face.

Catholic Christianity has regularly been marked by suffering and martyrdom. In fact, while the brutal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was haphazard and often limited to their leaders, it repeatedly proved to be much worse elsewhere and in later centuries. In 1597 twenty-seven Japanese Catholics were crucified at Nagasaki; in the following decades thousands of other Japanese and some foreigners suffered death for their faith. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century persecution in Vietnam resulted in thousands of martyrs. On a visit to South Korea in 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized 103 Catholic Christians who died during persecutions in 1839—46 and 1866—7. From the end of the eighteenth century through to the middle of the nineteenth century, the Korean Catholic Church counted up to 10,000 martyrs, headed by St Andrew Kim Taegon. During the Ugandan persecution (1885—7) St Charles Lwanga and twenty-one companions were burned to death or killed by the sword. The king of Uganda executed numerous Anglican Christians as well as these Catholics. During the fourteenth century under Mongol rulers, especially Tamerlane (1336—1405), the Church of the East (often called the Nestorian Church) suffered a savage persecution. The tyranny of Joseph Stalin (1879—1953) brought death to numerous Orthodox Christians, both in the USSR and (immediately after the Second World War) in satellite Communist countries. Catholic Christians have certainly not been alone in dying for their faith, but they have done so in large numbers—not least in the twentieth century.

It has often been said, and may well be true, that more Catholics and other Christians suffered imprisonment and martyrdom in the twentieth century than in all previous ages put together. We are still waiting for complete martyrologies or lists of those men and women who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus and, one must add, in the exercise of their discipleship. Many laypeople, religious women, priests, and bishops have died as 'martyrs of charity', followers of Christ who, often in situations of extreme danger, set themselves to serve others unselfishly. A letter written by an Italian nun, Sister Erminia Cazzaniga, shortly before she was killed in September 1999 by the militia in East Timor, spoke for these martyrs of charity. She wrote of her determination to stay with the East Timorese people, despite the threat of violence: 'Today our mission consists not only in helping but also, as St Paul says, in weeping with those who weep, sharing with those in need, and giving much hope and confidence in God the Father who does not abandon his children.'

Following this excursus on later martyrs, let us go back to the early Church and sketch something of the lives of Christians in the pre-Constantine period, and then outline the enduring contributions to Catholic Christianity that came from five outstanding figures: Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian.

Baptism 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit', reported at the end of Matthew's Gospel, rapidly became and remained the standard formula for the basic sacrament of Christian initiation (Matt. 28: 19). The Didache, written probably around AD 90, and so one of the earliest Christian works outside the NT, instructs those who baptize to do so using the trinitarian formula (7. 1—3). This invocation of the Trinity provided the creative ground-plan for constructing the questions concerning the tripersonal God ('Do you believe in the Father?' and so forth) and answers that encouraged the formation of creeds. Such questions evoked the threefold baptismal profession of faith in the Trinity recorded by the Apostolic Tradition of St Hippolytus of Rome (c.170—c.236) that dates from c.216 (DH 10; ND 2). Baptismal creeds, (with the Old Roman Creed crystallizing around the middle of the third century and giving rise to other creeds), emerged in the West and in the East and were then followed by conciliar creeds, the earliest being those from the Council of Antioch (325) and from the First Council of Nicaea (325). The evidence from the second and third centuries records the faith of the catechumens and the communities that welcomed them, when in a dramatic experience of deep personal relevance they confessed their faith and were united to the tripersonal God.10

10 See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (London: Longman, 3rd edn. 1972); W Kinzig and M. Vinzent, 'The Origin of the Creed', Journal of Theological Studies , 50 (1999), 535-59.

The celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday or the Lord's Day reaches back to the start of Christianity. Paul (1 Cor. 11: 23—6) and Luke (Acts 2: 42; 20: 7) witness to that. The Didache seems to refer to the eucharistic liturgy in a prayer: As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one mass, so may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom' (9. 4). A few years later St Justin Martyr (c.100—c.165) wrote a fairly detailed account of eucharistic worship on Sundays (First Apology, 65—7). (Here he also indicated the practice of collecting money for the relief of widows, orphans, prisoners, the sick, and others in need. Of this more anon.) The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, from the beginning of the third century, includes a eucharistic prayer, which (with slight adaptations and the addition of the 'Holy, Holy, Holy' or 'Sanctus') became after the Second Vatican Council (1962—5) the second eucharistic prayer for Catholics of the Latin or Western rite. Then, as now, the Eucharist comprises two parts: the Liturgy of the Word, which followed the pattern of Jewish synagogue services, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which centred on Jesus' words of institution at the Last Supper and included an invocation of the Holy Spirit (the 'Epiclesis').

The first Christians held services in private homes or house churches. The oldest Christian building known to be used exclusively for religious functions seems to be a house remodelled extensively for such purposes around AD 235 in Dura Europos, an ancient city on the right bank of the Euphrates, north-west of Baghdad. When public freedom arrived with the Emperor Constantine, Christians built their own churches or restructured former pagan temples for their worship. Christian art then developed more freely. It had begun in the catacombs of Rome, with representations of Christ as the Good Shepherd, of the Last Supper, of the Virgin Mary, and of the Magi on their way to find Jesus. That earliest Christian iconography included no scenes of the birth of Jesus or his crucifixion. It took hundreds of years before artists directly expressed his crucifixion with all its pain, and his resurrection into glory.

Christians defended high ideals for the family and provided a happier, more secure way of life, especially for women. They held the marriage bond to be sacred, excluded polygamy, divorce, and incest, and rejected a double standard that accepted various forms of sexual licence for pagan men. Right from the time of the Didache they condemned abortion and infanticide (2. 2). Non-Christians limited population by practising abortion (which often brought death to the mother and caused infertility to those women who survived). Domitian (Emperor of Rome 81—96), for example, made his niece Julia pregnant and then ordered her to have an abortion, from which she died. Pagans were also ready to kill newborn children, especially baby girls. As Christians did not follow suit, many Christian women survived to intermarry with pagan men and create new households of believers.11

Right from the first century (Acts 6: 1; 1 Tim. 5: 3—16), Christian communities respected and financially supported widows. Their expanded sense of family and family obligations was strikingly reflected in Paul's letters and his concern for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. To relieve their misery he repeatedly encouraged believers elsewhere to contribute generously (Rom. 15: 25-7; 1 Cor. 16: 1-4; 2 Cor. 8: 1-9: 15; Gal. 2: 1-10). The Christians of Rome exercised a notable ministry by supporting with their money needy communities elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. This social concern extended beyond the ranks of the believers to all those in great need (see Matt. 25: 31-46). A story about St Laurence (d. 258), one of the seven deacons responsible for the goods of the Roman community and the distribution of alms to the poor, enjoys legendary accretions but expresses nicely the tradition of social service:

When the Prefect of Rome was informed of these charities, imagining that the Christians had hid considerable treasures, he wanted to secure them: for he was no less a worshipper of gold and silver than of Jupiter and Mars. With this in view he sent for St Laurence and said to him, 'Bring out your treasures; the Emperor has need of them to maintain his forces. I am told that according to your doctrines you must render to Caesar the things that belong to him.' Laurence went all over the city, seeking out the poor who were supported by the Church. On the third day he gathered together a great number of them, and placed them in rows, the decrepit, the blind, the lame, the maimed, the lepers, orphans, widows and maidens; then he went to the Prefect and invited him to come and see the treasure of the Church. The Prefect, astonished to see such an assembly of misery and misfortune, turned to the deacon with threatening looks, and asked him what all this meant, and where the treasures were that he had promised to show him. St Laurence answered, What are you displeased at? These are the treasure of the Church.'12

11 On the role of women in the growth of Christianity, see M. T. Malone, Women and Christianity (Dublin: Columba Press, 2000); Stark, Rise of Christianity , 95-128.

12 H. Thurston and D. Attwater (eds.), Butler's Lives of the Saints , iii (London: Burns & Oates, 1956), 2978; slightly edited.

Many pagans who survived severe epidemics owed their lives to their Christian neighbours. Two such epidemics, in particular, should be recalled. By courageously caring for the sick, Christians helped to mitigate the epidemics of 165—80 and 251—66, which destroyed up to one-third of the population of the Roman world. These calamitous crises became the occasion of conversions to and growth of the Church. From probably being less than 10,000 in AD 100, Christians passed the 100,000 mark around AD 180, were well over six million by AD 300, and, with around thirty-four million adherents had become more than half the population of the Roman Empire by AD 350.13

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  • nicole
    Who wrote "men and women who marry should enter the union with the consent of the bishop"?
    8 years ago

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