Archive for the ‘Early Church Fathers’ Category

Actually….they we do. 😉 We also ask for intercession from others as well. In fact, just last night I asked some friends to pray for me. Not one of them refused my request telling me just to take it directly to God. They were all glad to intercede for me. This is sort of how it is with Catholics and prayers to the saints. When a Catholic says he or she is praying to a saint, what they really mean is they are asking for intercession from that saint. They are basically saying “St. So-and-So, pray for me”. Even in the Rosary, we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners”. This practice of asking the departed for their intercession dates back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. The confusion is often one of semantics and being unfamiliar with Catholic-ease. If not explained, this practice can be a cause of great concern among non-Catholics. (Just as an aside, the word “saint” can mean different things to different people. In the Old Testament, King David used this word to refer to the Jews. In the New Testament, Paul uses it to refer to believers. Catholics also use the term “saint” to refer to Christians who have run the race and achieved the crown of heaven.)

But isn’t Christ supposed to be our “one mediator”? (1 Tim. 2:5)

Absolutely! I don’t think I need to convince anyone here that in asking my friends to pray for me, they are not detracting in any way from Christ’s unique role as mediator between God and man. I also don’t think I need to convince anyone that having others pray for us is good and right. Paul exhorts us to intercede for one another:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ” 1 Timothy2:1-4

Saints in heaven are praying. We are told that in Scripture:

“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” Rev. 5:8

“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” Rev. 8:3-4

And also in writings from the Early Church Fathers (ECF’s):

“But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from him?” Hermas, A.D. 80

“But not the high priest alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels…as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep.” Origen, A.D. 233

That those in heaven pray is supported in scripture and by the ECF’s. The choice to invoke them or not is completely mine. There is no mandate of the Church to seek the intercession of the departed. However, since I know this is true:

“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” James 5:16

…and since I need all the help I can get, then I say why not?!? 😉

July 2012 Update:  Of all the posts on this blog, the one continues to garner the most attention.  I am incredibly blessed to know this post has helped so many (whether they agree or disagree) have a better understanding of Catholic prayer.  I wish I was able to dedicate time to answering questions that have come up in the combos.  However, I just don’t at this season in my life.  When I started this blog, I was the mother of 4 young girls.  Now, I have three teenagers, a ten year old, and a toddler boy who I strive to keep from injuring himself every day.  🙂   If you are sincerely interested in digging deeper into this topic, may I suggest you take a look at my reading list.  I had many of the same concerns I’ve seen voiced in the comments and those books were extremely helpful.  Some good websites that also might be helpful are:

Please keep in mind that you will get the most accurate and thorough answers to your questions about Catholicism by reading articles/books written by Catholics themselves rather than those who think they understand Catholicism.

I continue to welcome your comments and questions but please understand that it’s unlikely I will be able to give you the thoughtful response your sincere questions deserve.  I will delete any comments that are unkind or snarky.


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You’re St. Melito of Sardis!

You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

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In case you haven’t been following the comments section of this post, I’ve received some additional questions regarding Mary. Because Mary and beliefs about her can be a huge stumbling block to many, I thought it better to create a whole new post instead of responding in the comments section of my previous post.

Here are my friend’s comments:

I stumbled upon this, which is a bit unrelated to my original train of thought, but helpful as I search out the “brother” meaning/usage. I hope it’s not too harsh, but will be a worthwhile read.

Actually I was originally pondering how God extols the joy and even duty of married “love” (I’m being delicate) in Scripture and why both Mary and Joseph would maintain her virginity after Christ’s birth; it seems contradictory and we know God cannot contradict Himself, hence bells go off and we search further. The passages about marriage I’m thinking of which seem to contradict a wife remaining a virgin include
Gen 2:24
Song of Solomon 4:1-5:1
1 Cor 7:1-5 (pre-Mary, but true nonetheless)

Is 7:14 is the clear prophecy that the messiah will be BORN of a virgin–the Hebrew word translated here virgin is found elsewhere in OT in Gen 24:43, Ex 2:8, Ps 68:25, Prov 30:19, Song 1:3, 6:8 and in those places refers only to a chaste maiden who is unmarried (notes from my NAS bible); vice a perpetual married virgin.

Interesting difference between what God tells us about married love and what the Catholic church says about Mary and Joseph’s life in that area.

Clear as mud? )

First, about the link… I don’t know anything about that website or the scholarship of the authors of those posts although they make some interesting points. If your read through the entire page, you will also see a post which begins: BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF JESUS (this is a revision of a previous article of same name) and which is written by someone obviously way more learned. For now, I’m going to defer to that author.
Before moving on to the relationship between Mary and Joseph, I want to reiterate what I explained in this post about Holy Tradition. Catholics believe the revelation of God can only be fully understood in light of Holy Scripture along with Holy Tradition. God cannot contradict Himself in either area. It’s important to keep this in mind because although a doctrine or dogma cannot be anti-biblical, it may be extra-biblical — that is, not explicitly explained within the Bible but elaborated on and developed more fully by others in the early church. Some examples of this would be the acceptance of the belief of the Trinity or the Canon of the New Testament.

On to the issue of the marriage relationship between Joseph and Mary –

To say their family life wasn’t normal would be the understatement of the year. They may have been the ideal family but they certainly weren’t “regular”. Their lives were full of “unnatural” circumstances – a virgin girl giving birth to a child, the responsibility of loving and raising the Son of God who was God Himself. To understand the Holy Family, we have to abandon our tendencies to view their plight with our modern human sensibilities. They were totally unlike any other family. For Joseph and Mary to choose to live a life of abstinence would be unusual and unnatural, but not inconceivable given they weren’t your typical family. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was a necessary and unavoidable choice.

In trying to grasp the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity, it’s helpful to understand her title of “Theotokos” which literally means “God-bearer”. Origen first used this term to describe Mary in 254 A.D. Later on, however, the Council of Ephesus officially gave this title to Mary in 431 A.D. in response to the heresy known as Nestorianism. Nestorian held to a belief that Jesus was really two persons – one human and one God and that Mary was only the mother of the man Jesus. It was important for the Council of the Church to refute this heresy about the identity of Jesus and to re-affirm what had been believed since the beginning of the Church – that Jesus was fully God and fully man in one person. It’s interesting that the way the Council did this was to re-affirm Mary’s identity as “God-bearer”.

Something else that is helpful is to understand typology. I’m sure you’ve heard of Old Testament stories or people that point to something in the New Testament. Stephen Ray says this about typology and types:

“It is like a taste or a hint of something that will be fulfilled or realized. types are like pictures that come alive in a new and exciting way when seen through the eyes of Christ’s revelation…………………The idea of typology is not new. Paul says that Adam was a type of the one who was to come – Christ (Romans 5:14). Early Christians understood that the Old Testament was full of types or pictures that were fulfilled or realized in the New Testament.”

There are many parallels between the story of the construction of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and the New Testament stories of Mary. The Catholic Church believes that the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing or “type” of Mary. In Exodus, God gives very specific instructions about the construction of the ark. It would be a sacred place where God himself would dwell. Once the Ark was constructed, the Lord’s Shekinah glory (in the form of a cloud) covered the tent of meeting and filled the Tabernacle. The metaphor of the cloud represents the presence and glory of god. This metaphor is also seen when the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and “overshadows” her so that she may conceive and bear Jesus. Mary is a living shrine of God Almighty in the same way that the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament served as God’s dwelling. Also, the language of “overshadowing” was language used to describe a marital relationship. Hence, the Holy Spirit has espoused Mary. Understood in that way, it would make sense that Joseph understood that Mary was a consecrated vessel and therefore refrained from having normal marital relations with her. No doubt he had heard of the fate of Uzzah who was struck dead for touching the Ark (2 Sam. 6:6-8). Amazingly, Mary was mother, daughter, and spouse of God. There are many more parallels between stories of the OT Ark and stories about Mary….too many to list here but they aren’t difficult to find with some “googling”.

Another interesting tidbit I learned while in the process of writing this entry was that in Jewish law, if a man was betrothed to a women and she became pregnant with another’s child, the man initially betrothed to her could never have relations with her. He could instead choose to put her away privately or publicly condemn her. Obviously, Joseph chose the former.

This brief look at the “whys” of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity really only scratch the surface in helping to understand this idea. There’s so much more information available and it’s written by folks much more learned than myself on this subject. I invite any readers of this blog who may have more to add to what I’ve written to please do so.

For further study, I would suggest checking out these resources for starters:

Mary, the Second Eve

Hail Holy Queen

Scripture and Early Church Father on Mary

More Interesting Stuff on Mary


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I wrote about why I think the beliefs and writings of the Early Church Fathers (ECF’s) are still valuable to us here. In my own experience, however, it was hard to appreciate the importance of these guys until I understood who they were. So this post will hopefully be the first of many “Spotlight on the Fathers” posts, introducing you to some of these amazing men.

Ignatius of Antioch (nicknamed Theophorus – “God-bearing” – by some in the early church) lived roughly from 35 A.D. – 107 A.D. during the period of history known as the Pax Romana. He was supposedly a disciple of the Apostle John and was Bishop of the Church of Antioch in Syria during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

While presiding over the Church of Antioch, he was constantly being confronted by the claims of another church in Antioch. A church that looked very much like the one he served in its liturgical practices, yet with a slight theological twist. The Docetists were a heretical group that denied God’s real, in-the-flesh humanity in the person of Jesus. They believed God had taken on the mere appearance of a man yet was not actually a man in substance. While that may not seem like a big theological tweak, the ramifications become quite consequential. In his book Four Witnesses: The Early Church In Her Own Words, Rob Bennett draws this conclusion from the Docetists’ denial of God being God-in-the-flesh:

“His apparent humanity – and by extension His suffering on the Cross – was, in truth, nothing but a divine bit of playacting.” p.104

This slight theological alteration compromise, provided the Docetists with a safety buffer from the Roman Empire. Their religion was less offensive with the doctrine of the Incarnation shoved under the rug. And after seeing Peter, Paul and other Apostles martyred, to be less offensive was quite attractive.

Ignatius of Antioch, however, would not be satisfied with this compromise and had great concern that the prospect of a safety buffer would prove too attractive for some in his flock (especially new believers) to resist. As Rob Bennett states:

“When the Apostles suffered under Nero, when he and Clement had suffered under Domitian, the choice had beens so much clearer, so much cleaner. It was Christ or nothing; it was victory or everlasting shame! But now something new had been added; this so-called alternative, this ‘third way’ to sap their strength and confuse their terror-stricken hearts. Now there was another church, another bishop – someone as learned as he or more learned, someone who could quote you the law and the prophets, look you in the face and tell you that so long as the spirit remains willing it would matter nothing if the flesh were weak.” p. 111

Although the details are unclear, Ignatius’ unwillingness to compromise eventually led him to seek an audience with the Emperor Trajan himself. The outcome of this meeting was Ignatius’ being condemned to death.

“When Ignatius heard this decree he instantly dropped to his knees on the palace floor. Stretching his arms toward heaven, he cried out in a loud voice:

‘I thank thee, O Lord, that Thou Hast vouchsafed to honour me with a perfect love towards Thee, and hast made me to be bound with iron chains, like Thy Apostle Paul!’ ” Bennett p. 116

Between the time when Ignatius’ death sentence was issued and his actual martyrdom took place, he wrote a series of letters: to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. He apparently was the first to call the Church “Catholic” and the focus of most of his letters was the Eucharist.

I’m realizing now that what was supposed to be a mere “spotlight” on Ignatius has become quite an essay! Kudos to you if you’re still with me! 🙂 There’s so much more that could be said about Ignatius of Antioch but since this was only meant to be an introduction, I’ll end with some of Ignatius’ own words:

“Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

“I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

For further study:

Four Witnesses: The Early Church In Her Own Words (Rob Bennett)

The Mass of the Early Christians (Mike Aquilina)

Faith of the Early Fathers, Vols. 1-3 (William Jurgens)

The Way of the Fathers (blog by Mike Aquilina)

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…and I don’t mean a weight loss program. 😉

Every once in a while you learn a new bit of information or you see something as if seeing it for the first time and you have a hunch that what you’re learning or seeing may have a big impact on your life. Now I’m not talking a “lightbulb” moment like when I learned I could place books on hold at our local library via the internet and some hard-working librarian would pull all of them off the shelf and have them waiting for me at the check-out desk within a couple of days. Or when I learned that Bed, Bath & Beyond will let you use expired coupons (did you know that?!).

What I’m talking about is more than a “lightbulb moment”. I talkin’ one of those scales-falling-from-your-eyes moments when you realize your life may or should change profoundly in response to what you’ve seen. The scales are falling so fast you can practically here them clatter as they hit the floor. Perhaps you’re even shaken to the core by it….but you can’t ignore it. You can’t not be changed by it. You’re drawn by it.

That was me, about 18 months ago while sitting with our church bible study as we studies this passage:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
36: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37: All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
39: and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
40: For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41: The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
42: They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”
43: Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
45: It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
46: Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
48: I am the bread of life.
49: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
50: This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
51: I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;
54: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55: For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57: As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58: This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” John 6:35-58

I had read these verses before, many times in fact. Frankly, it really didn’t matter to me if the wafer and wine we ingested at communion were the real deal or a memorial. If my Dh wanted to believe they were the real flesh and blood of Jesus, that was fine with me. Either way, it didn’t make any difference how we lived out our faith. That’s where I was that evening when we examined this passage.

But that particular evening, my reasoning fell apart when I discovered that the Greek word Jesus uses for “eats” in some of these verses (the ones I have bolded) means literally to “chew” or “gnaw”. Before verse 54, he uses a more common verb for eat, one that could be interpreted to have a figurative meaning, i.e. the necessity of faith. But from verse 54 on, the focus of his teaching shifts to a more crude and forceful connotation. (scales hitting the floor) In fact, this gnawing/chewing is so important that He repeats it three more times in this passage. (more scales hitting the floor) Not only that but he associates this gnawing/chewing with having eternal life (v. 54) and with abiding in Him (v. 56). (still more scales)

Because our study group was also reading through Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and was being led by a guy who was studying directly under Dr. Wilken, we incorporated many writings of the ECF’s. How did the early Christians understand this passage?

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110

“And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” Justin Martyr, A.D. 155

“He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” Irenaeus, A.D. 189

“I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence. But if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?” Origen, A.D. 244

I have to admit it was a bit of a rug-pulled-out-from-under-me experience. I think the room may have even begun to spin. The Lord had shown me something BIG and I knew I would not be unchanged by it. Jesus was telling me He is in the Eucharist and that my partaking in the Eucharist assists me in abiding in Him and obtaining eternal life. Writings of the ECF’s supported these notions. The implications for my life were huge.

Why did I never understand this before? I have wondered that often since then. I think the timing and circumstances God provides for revealing more of Himself to us are part of His mystery. Perhaps up to that point in my life, He had other things to show me? I think of the Ethiopian eunuch who had been reading his bible but still didn’t “get it” until God providentially planted Philip in the eunuch’s path (Acts 8:26-31) Or there’s the all too familiar story of Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. Paul had plenty of opportunities to “see” but it wouldn’t happen unless it was God’s time and God’s way. Only God knows what it takes for us to see what He wants to reveal.

I have only skimmed the surface as far as the Early Church’s belief in the Eucharist. There are links below if you want to read more. God has each of us in a unique place of His choosing. But I do think it’s imperative (as well as a scriptural exhortation) that we know what we believe and why.

Know what you believe.

Know why.

But be careful though…it just may lead you someplace unexpected. 🙂

For futher study:

Scripture Catholic on the Eucharist


Crossing the Tiber

The Mass of the Early Christians

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I distinctly remember the first time I heard mention of the Early Church Fathers. Our Anglican priest was inviting us to a class that would examine some of the writings of these men. At that time, having never heard the term “Early Church Father” before, I assumed we would study the patriarchs of the Old Testament – Noah, Abraham, Jacob, etc. I had no idea it was possible to read documentation, commentaries, or sermons from the New Testament church outside of Holy Scripture.

I now understand that the Early Church Fathers (hereafter known as the ECF’s) were Christian teachers and/or leaders who lived and wrote during the first eight centuries of the Church. Their writings, known as Patristic writings, give us historical documentation for what was believed and practiced by the Church in the early centuries.

The Apostolic Fathers are a subset of ECF’s who lived during the first two centuries of the Church. Many of these men lived their lives from infancy with Jesus and the Apostles and grew up to be the early Church. Some of the Apostolic Fathers were direct disciples of the Apostles: Clement of Rome was a disciple of the Apostles Peter & Paul, both Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the Apostle John. These men are able to give us eyewitness accounts of what the early Church believed and practiced and also to what the Apostles were saying about the faith.

By now you’re wondering why the accounts the Bible provides us aren’t enough. Right?

An analogy that has helped me to understand the importance of Patristric writings is that of a study bible. My favorite bible for years was my NIV Study Bible. I constantly referred to the study notes for a clearer understanding of a verse or passage. In essence, I was trusting the interpretation of modern-day scholars to give me a clearer understanding of the Scriptures. How much more valuable are the insights offered to us by the first Fathers of the Church because their accounts are first hand. History has proven that if you ask 20 different theologians their interpretation of a verse you will get 20 different answers. Interestingly enough, both Catholic and non-Catholic scholars appeal to Patristic writings for interpretation of the doctrines and practices of the early Church.

“Can any who spend several years in the seat of learning, be excused if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, a knowledge of the Fathers?-the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given.” John Wesley – An Address to the Clergy

I would suggest that it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of early Christianity without consulting the writings of the Early Church Fathers. As Rod Bennett says in his book Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words:

“The early Church is no mystery. As a matter of fact, most believers would be astonished to learn just how much we do know about the first three hundred years of Christian history. We have, for example, much inspiring history about the founding of her many congregations throughout the ancient world. We actually know the names of some of her earliest pastors, and in a few cases we have their writings to read. We still have harrowing accounts of her persecution by the Pharisees and by the pagan Romans. We know what sorts of heresies attacked the early church and, once again, the very names of the heretics who stood against her. We have hymns and prayers and poetry preserved from this period. We have epitaphs from Christian tombs. We have doctrinal statements, Bible commentary, and sermons dating from these days. We have responsive readings used in church; in fact, we have a good deal of information about how Sunday services were conducted. To put it briefly, we have (contrary to popular belief) a very vivid picture of primitive Christianity-and a picture that is open for investigation by anyone.” p. 9

I hope this very basic explanation of the ECF’s has whet your appetite for more. It’s really fascinating to get a look at how these guys believed, lived, and worshipped. If you find yourself wanting more, here are a few resources to get you started:

Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought

The Fathers of the Church

The Faith of the Fathers, Vols. 1-3


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