"Post-Birth Abortion": Ethicists Argue for the Right to Kill Newborns

It's hard to believe that this is real, but it apparently is.  A pair of ethicists, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, are arguing that infanticide should be legal for any reason.  And their paper on the subject has been accepted and published by the prominent Journal of Medical Ethics.  The entire piece is available on the JME's site.  Here's the abstract:
Giotto, Massacre of the Innocents (1306)
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
The authors explain their use of the euphemism “after-birth abortion”:
In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. 
In a nutshell, the authors' argument is that newborns aren't really persons, because they aren't yet “able to make aims and appreciate their own life”:
The Massacre of the Innocents (1350)
Although fetuses and newborns are not persons, they are potential persons because they can develop, thanks to their own biological mechanisms, those properties which will make them ‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’: that is, the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life. [...] If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all.
And the authors don't even propose a deadline for when it stops being okay to murder newborns, since we apparently each become persons at a different age:
First, we do not put forward any claim about the moment at which after-birth abortion would no longer be permissible, and we do not think that in fact more than a few days would be necessary for doctors to detect any abnormality in the child. In cases where the after-birth abortion were requested for nonmedical reasons, we do not suggest any threshold, as it depends on the neurological development of newborns, which is something neurologists and psychologists would be able to assess.
So an otherwise perfectly-healthy adult who suffers from severe mental retardation could potentially be killed by his parents or caregivers at any point, for any reason, and there would be “no harm at all.”  The authors also noted that infanticide is already accepted policy in the Netherlands:
In The Netherlands, for instance, the Groningen Protocol (2002) allows to actively terminate the life of ‘infants with a hopeless prognosis who experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering’.
When I read this, I hoped that this was some sort of grim Swiftian satire, showing the absurdity of the pro-choice position.  But it turns out, the authors appear to be deadly serious.  Giubilini is also an open advocate for more widespread euthanasia, so evangelizing for more killing seems to be part of his M.O.

The editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics defended his decision to publish the piece on the basis that this was a common opinion among bioethicists and philosophers:
Léon Cogniet, Massacre of the Innocents (1824)
The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.
Obviously, most pro-choicers would flinch at this idea, but it's worth pointing out the obvious: Giubilini, Minerva, Singer, Tooley, and Harris are at least intellectually and logically consistent. They recognize that abortion is what we would call (in other context) murder, and they're okay with it. On what grounds can a pro-choicer seriously object? On what grounds can we say that it's a crime against humanity to murder a child seconds after birth, while morally acceptable to have done the deed a moment earlier?   If two sisters conceive on the same day, and one gives birth to her baby prematurely, that baby is entitled to the right to life, while the newborn's cousin has no right to life.

So this is where we stand in the West: the argument that we should be morally allowed to kill children for any reason is taken seriously, and considered worthy of debate.  And an only slightly-less heinous version of this idea is already public policy in at least one country, The Netherlands. My hope is that with the game finally revealed for what it is: an argument between being pro-life and pro-murder, those who honestly delude themselves into thinking that abortion is somehow distinguishable from murder will reconsider.

Did Christ Erase the Need for Purgatory?

Baron Henri de Triqueti,
Non Mechaberis (Nathan Confronts David) (1837)
A reader emailed me a question about the distinction between the temporal and eternal consequences due to sin  In a nutshell, the Catholic view is that sin incurs eternal damnation, and that Jesus Christ takes this consequence away for believers through His Death on the Cross, but that Christ didn't (and didn't intend to) remove every consequence of sin.  In fact, as you'll see below, it's precisely because of Christ's Death on the Cross that Purgatory exists.

The discussion was related to 2 Samuel 12:13-14.  David's affair with a married woman (who he then impregnates) leads him to engineer the death of her husband in battle.  The prophet Nathan confronts him about it, and David repents.  Nathan then says, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.”  That's a rather clear distinction between eternal consequences (eternal death) and temporal consequences (the loss of his son).  The reader suggested that this might be different today, since David lived and died before the time of Christ.  I don't think so. Here's why:

  1. I assume the reader believes that David was saved from the fires of Hell. If that's the case, I assume the reader also believes that this is because Jesus Christ's merits on Calvary can be applied to anyone at any point in the past, present, or future, since it's an eternal Sacrifice.  That is, Christ's Death saved the B.C. and A.D. elect, if you will.  If all that's true, then Christ's Sacrifice applies to all of the saved, under both the Old and New Covenant. But if all that's true, why would David be punished worse than someone today?  He's just as much saved by Christ's merits as a believer today.

  2. Léon Bonnat, Crucifixion (1880)
  3. Maybe a better way of asking it would be this: did David's punishment take away the need for Christ's Sacrifice? Hopefully, we can all say “no” without a moment's hesitation. David wasn't saved apart from Christ - nobody was. But if David's punishment doesn't diminish the need for Christ's Sacrifice, why would Christ's Sacrifice eliminate the necessity of David's punishment?

  4. To distinguish between the temporal and eternal consequences of sin, imagine that you steal a car. You regret doing this, and ask forgiveness, and are forgiven. But you might still have to (a) return the car, (b) provide some sort of reparation to the car owner, and (c) be punished by the State. Each of those is a temporal consequence or punishment quite distinct from your soul spending eternity in Heaven or Hell.

  5. St. Paul talks about the role that the State plays in this regard, serving as “God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). Obviously, the State doesn't damn or save people, so Paul is clearly describing temporal punishments for sin.

  6. The Book of Hebrews also describes God as providing temporal punishments to sinners precisely to avoid the need for Hell: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.  For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11).  
Bernardino Mei, Christ Cleansing the Temple (1665)
This is why the author of Hebrews reminds his readers: “And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? – ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7).

This is the reality that I think Protestants overlook when they attack Purgatory.  They think that Christ's death takes away the need for temporal punishments, but these punishments are for our own good.  In fact, if “you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8).  So rather than Jesus taking away the need for temporal punishment, Hebrews tells us that the exact opposite is true.  Without Christ, the temporal punishments due to sin would be unnecessary, since there would be no hope for salvation.  If there's no Heaven, there's no need for Purgatory.

On the other hand, of course, if it's true that Jesus Christ's Death opened the gates of Heaven, then it's all the more important that we willingly undergo that discipline that “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  If He offers us a chance to become a son or daughter of God, we should leap at the opportunity, knowing that this includes being disciplined as a son or a daughter.  And we should treat such chastisements as blessings for our own spiritual good, aiding in our own sanctity.

Women Challenging the HHS Mandate

When the GOP-run House Oversight Committee held a hearing on religious freedom and the HHS Mandate, consisting of five male religious leaders, Congressional Democrats and Planned Parenthood quickly cried sexism, with two Democrats walking out in protest.  This struck me at the time as both clever and dishonest.

The second panel
Two facts are conveniently overlooked in the phony outrage  First, the hearing wasn't about whether contraception was a social good, or a boon for women.  The hearing was about the implications of forcing religious and conscientious employers to foot the bill for contraception.  So it is really that shocking or sexist to solicit testimony from members of the clergy (which, in many denominations, including Catholicism, are all male)?  Second, the walkout was over the fact that the first panel was all-male.  But the second panel consisted of medical doctors, and was composed of three men and two women.

In any case, the CIC is hosting a panel discussion this Monday that's exclusively highly-competent women who oppose the HHS Mandate.  I've met the moderator, Ashley McGuire, and have been impressed with her, and with her husband, Brian.  I don't think that I'll be able to attend, but it looks well worth the time.  The discussion will focus on “continued challenges the HHS mandate poses for women and the Church.”  More details on the panelists here, and I suspect that the video of the panel will be uploaded here early next week.

Looks like it's not just male chauvinists who like religious liberty more than free contraception:

The Catholic Information Center and  Altcatholicah 
cordially invite you to join us at the CIC

Next Monday, February 27 at 6 PM
for a panel discussion on
 Women Challenging the HHS Mandatefeaturing
Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network,
Dr. Marie Anderson M.D., OB-GYN, from the Tepeyac Family Center,
Gloria Purvis, board member of the Northwest Center, 
Maria Montserrat Alvarado from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,
with Ashley McGuire, editor in chief of Altcatholicah, moderating.
On  January 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a mandate that will force Catholic institutions to provide contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients in their health care plans, effectively forcing Catholic employers to  violate their consciences and fund practices that are morally offensive. 
On February 8, the Catholic Information Center hosted a panel discussion "Contesting the HHS Mandate." On February 10, President Obama announced a modification to the mandate in an attempt to accomodate religious liberty, by making the insurance company pay for contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients in the health care plans of religious institutions. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded that the mandate remains problematic because it maintains that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services.
Since the continuing debate has been framed as a conflict between women's health and religion, the Catholic Information Center is pleased to join the Catholic women's web-magazine Altcatholicah in hosting this all-women panel to discuss continued challenges the HHS mandate poses for women and the Church.

This event is free and open to the public.
The Catholic Information Center
1501 K St. NW
Washington, DC 20005

Remembering You Are Dust, in the Hope of the Resurrection

Yesterday, as we went up for ashes, there's a good chance that as he applied them to our foreheads, the priest said, “Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” a reference to Genesis 3:19.  A friend of mine asked how we, as Catholics, should understand this, in light of our belief in the resurrection of the body.  I'd been thinking about the same thing yesterday.  The short answer is that to believe in the resurrection of the body, you must first believe in death and decay.  So let's explore this seemingly-grim topic today.

Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas (1671)
(The images represent life, death, and time)
You're going to die. 

We think of these words as threatening, or at least tasteless.  But they're undeniably true.  Unless the Second Coming occurs during our lifetime (and more on that in a moment), the one thing we can count on happening in our life, with a theological certainty, is death.  Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “man is destined to die once”: that is, while we can avoid Hell (the “second death”), we can't avoid natural death.

There's a natural human desire to want to avoid thinking about this.  Particularly when we're young, we think and act as if we'll live forever. If we do have to acknowledge our mortality, it's oddly comforting to imagine it in a grand Apocalypse, in which we don't leave anything behind. Not only does this provide some meaning to our death, but it avoids painful separations in which others are left mourning for us.  Rather, we all go on the great trip to the hereafter together.  Of course, even this still involves dying.  So if you prefer, there's always the notion of  a pre-tribulation Rapture, instead: “The rapture is an event that will take place sometime in the near future. Jesus will come in the air, catch up the Church from the earth, and then return to heaven with the Church.”  This conveniently provides all the Heaven, with none of the suffering or death.

Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia ego (1638)
Catholicism avoids these easy opt-outs. We embrace the reality of death in an almost unsettling way.  Look at the amount of Catholic art dedicated to memento mori (which literally means: “Remember you will die”). A popular Medieval Latin phrase was Et in Arcadia ego, meaning that death comes even to (utopian) Arcadia. No matter how wealthy or powerful you are, you can't outrun, outsmart, or buy out death.

So why this focus on death?  Precisely because death isn't the end of the story.  To believe in the resurrection of the dead, you have to first believe that the dead need resurrecting.  That is, you have to implicitly acknowledge that our lifeless bodies will return to the dust, and that a supernatural intervention is necessary to restore and glorify us.

And just as death isn't the last word for our bodies, it's not the last word for our souls.  As Hebrews 9:27-28 says,
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
So yes, death is an inescapable part of the package.  But death is our gateway to either eternal glory or damnation.  We're aware of death the way students pay attention to the clock during important tests.  Once time's up, it's up.

This knowledge should keep us from sin.  Sirach 7:40 says, “In all your works remember your last end, and you shall never sin.”  Put another way, in the moment, sin can be incredibly tempting.  But if you keep an eye constantly on eternity: on death, judgment, Heaven and Hell, the fleeting pleasures of sin lose their force.  After all, no matter how enjoyable it might be for a moment, what sin could possibly warrant eternity in Hell? This is expressed well in a 1399 virelai written by Llibre Vermell de Montserrat:
Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis (1658)
Life is short, and shortly it will end;
Death comes quickly and respects no one,
Death destroys everything and takes pity on no one.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning. 
If you do not turn back and become like a child,
And change your life for the better,
You will not be able to enter, blessed, the Kingdom of God.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.
This isn't about us scaring ourselves with grim pictures. This is about addressing honestly the reality that we try so hard to avoid: you're going to die, and you're going to be accountable for how you lived your life.  Life is fleeting, and we need to get right with God.

For Christians, death shouldn't be something we're scared of, but something we prepare ourselves for.  We should strive to affirm with St. Paul (2 Cor. 5:8-9):
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
So the memento mori is helpful in reminding us of our need for a Savior, as well as the promise of eternal life.  Just as Lent brings us to the glory of Easter, so too does death bring us to the joy of the Resurrection.

Where Does Lent Come From, and Why Do We Celebrate it?

Where does Lent come from?  How quickly did the Church start celebrating Lent?  Why is it forty days?  Was it always this long?  What role have the popes played in fixing the Liturgical calendar for Lent and Easter?

Many of the answers to these questions are found, or at least hinted at, in a recent piece by Tim Kimberley of Reclaiming the Mind (the blog of the Protestant ministry Credo House), fittingly called A Short History of Lent.  It's a good start, but Kimberley gets a number of details wrong, and omits a whole lot.  So let's use the article as a jumping-off point, with corrections as needed.

I. Why is Lent Forty Days?

Temptations of Christ (San Marco) (12th c.)
First off, why is Lent forty days?  Because it's solidly Biblical:
The number 40 has held significant importance throughout biblical history. The rains fell on Noah in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments for 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of the Lord. Jesus, most importantly, fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights before starting his public ministry.
But here's something that isn't explicit in Scripture, but which is fascinating nonetheless: “the earliest of Christians believed Jesus was dead in the grave for 40 hours.”  If you assume that Christ was in the Tomb from about 4 p.m. on Good Friday until dawn on Easter Sunday, 40 hours is about right. If that's right, it would be a fascinating explanation for why the number 40 was such a significant number for preparation in both the Old and New Testament.

II. How Old Is Lent?

Kimberley explains:
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (130 - 202)
We can trace Lent almost all the way back to the disciples. This is quite extraordinary. The heroic theologian Irenaeus (who died in 203AD and was discipled by Polycarp who himself was believed to be discipled by the Apostle John) wrote a letter to Victor I. This letter was thankfully recorded by the early church historian Eusebius. Irenaeus is telling Victor about their Easter celebrations.In this letter he writes: 
“The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24).
Now, it's great that Kimberley explains the incredible antiquity of Lent, and he's spot on in pointing to Irenaeus for proof. Irenaeus, a spiritual grandson of the Apostle John, is describing, in the late 100s, a pre-Easter fast that originated “very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.”  Granted, Irenaeus describes an intense forty hour fast, rather than a less intense fast spanning forty days, but the contours of Lent are clearly present, even here.

III. What About the Role of the Papacy?

Pope St. Victor I
What Kimberley doesn't mention is who, exactly, this “Victor I” is, in the section quoted above.  Is this Victor I of Timbuktu?  Emperor Victor I?  As you might have guessed, Irenaeus is writing to Pope St. Victor I.  In fact, in the very section of History of the Church that  Kimberley is quoting from, Eusebius refers to him as “Victor, who presided over the church at Rome.”  It's not ambiguous.

But here's what makes this story so fascinating.  The churches of Asia Minor had ancient traditions related to Easter, and the penitential season prior to it, which differed from the rest of the Church.  The question facing the early Church was: should Easter always be celebrated on a Sunday, or should it be tied to the beginning of Passover?  While most of the Church said Sunday, the churches around Asia Minor said to do it based on Passover.

For some time, the Church simply tolerated a diversity of styles, but in the 190s A.D., Pope Victor I tried to impose uniformity.  He declared that the entire global Church had to do it on Sunday, and excommunicated those bishops who wouldn't upset their local traditions, along with their entire dioceses.  While the pope certainly had the authority to do so, this seemed like overkill, and caused an outcry from other bishops (such as Irenaeus, who in addition to being a  “heroic theologian,” was Bishop of Lyons, France, and a staunch defender of the papacy's Apostolic succession from St. Peter).

And note what's bothering these other bishops.  It's not the idea that the Bishop of Rome has the authority to discipline and even excommunicate anyone, anywhere in the Church, including other Bishops.  It's that he's using this authority in an imprudent way.  To think of it analogously: if a father grounded one of his kids for a month for having untied shoes, the other kids would probably balk, not because they question dad's authority to ground, but the cavalier manner in which he used it.    All of this, properly understood, is an affirmation of papal authority in the early Church, particularly since Easter Sunday ended up winning out globally.

IV.  Is the 40 Day Period of Lent a Translation Error?

Richard Linderum, Monk Botanist (19th c.)
The weakest spot in Kimberley's otherwise pretty good article is his claim that “the 40 day period of Lent may be a translation mistake.”  His argument is that the section I quoted above (in which Irenaeus describes a forty-hour fast) was mistranslated by Rufinus (340-410 A.D.) as a forty day fast:
A man named Rufinus translated Eusebius’ History of the Church from Greek into Latin. For some reason he put a punctuation mark between “40″ and “hours.” It gave people reading the letter of Irenaeus the idea that Irenaeus meant “40 – 24 hour days.”
But right after that, he writes:
By the 300′s AD a 40 day celebration period leading up to Easter appears to be widespread. The Council of Nicea (325AD) mentions two synods should be held each year, “one before the 40 days of Lent.”
Do you see the problem? The Council of Nicea, in 325, is treating it as a commonly-accepted fact that Lent is 40 days. Rufinus wasn't even born yet. So unless the Nicene Fathers were time-travelers, Kimberley's theory here doesn't hold water.


So there you have it. Lent, in some form or another, has been around since incredibly early in the Church, possibly back to the time of the Apostles. The practice is rooted in Scripture, and by 325, its length of forty days prior to Easter seems to have been uniformly accepted throughout the Church.  In the process, we saw the hand of both the early Papacy (Victor I, in the 190s), and the early Church Councils (the First Council of Nicea, in 325).

Sadly, Protestantism, in rejecting the authority of both Church Councils and the papacy, is left without a coherent mechanism to establish any unified date for Easter, or to establish any particular length of time for Lent.  Having said that, it's heartening that folks like Tim Kimberley are willing to explore the issue, and hopefully, others will follow him in investigating these matters.

Ash Wednesday Motivation

Morning Prayer this morning in the Liturgy of the Hours contained a particularly beautiful prayer for Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent:
Grant, O Lord,that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.– Amen.
I loved the prayer, because it has the theme of spiritual warfare, but is clear that this is a war of love and self-giving, and fought with weapons like self-restraint.

It Runs in the Dolan Family, I Guess

Capping a whirlwind nine-day trip with a final visit to the Vatican, Timothy Cardinal Dolan introduced his 84-year-old mom to Pope Benedict XVI yesterday — then jokingly asked the pontiff if he could make her “the first lady of the College of Cardinals.”

Amid cheers and applause, Dolan walked his mom, Shirley, up to the stage to greet his boss during a papal audience before an enthusiastic crowd inside the Paul VI Hall.

“Holy Father, here is my mom!” Dolan said he told the pope.

Unable to resist the temptation to make a joke, Dolan, 62, pointed out that he’s one of the few princes of the church young enough and lucky enough to still have his mother alive.

“I asked him if he would declare her the first lady of the College of Cardinals,” he said.

Dolan recounted that the pope, who turns 85 in April, then paid his mom the ultimate compliment, telling her, “You look too young to be the mother of a cardinal.”

The cardinal said his mom — showing that a quick wit is a family trait — shot back, “Holy Father, was that an infallible statement?”
- From the New York Post (h/t Deacon Greg Kandra and Brandon Vogt).

I can't get enough of Cardinal Dolan, and the way he presents the Catholic faith with such warmth and humor.  It turns out, the apple may not have fallen far from the tree.  Cardinal Dolan talks a bit about his mom in A People of Hope, which I reviewed a while back.

Are the Immaculate Conception and Assumption Post-Reformation Innovations?

Diego Velazquez,
Immaculate Conception (1618)
An Anglican reader with a love for Mary described her concerns about the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption:
I appreciate that Mariology grounds our understanding of Christ's human nature, and that without her assent the incarnation could not have happened. We should call her blessed. 
Out of obedience to that call, I have given much time and thought to Marian devotion. I appreciate that doctrine develops over time from principles embryonically present in scripture. However, the post reformation doctrines of the immaculate conception and assumption puzzle me, not because they inherently contradict scripture, but because I cannot find their embryonic form. The barrier that this presents to Christian unity saddens me.
This is a reasonable question, and it deserves a straightforward answer. It's also a question that I'm sure many Catholics have wondered as well: do we find a belief in the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, at least in an embryonic form, in the early Church? Yes and yes. Let's look at each doctrine in turn.

I. The Immaculate Conception of Mary

This is the doctrine that Mary was preserved from original and actual sin from the moment of her conception. I've written before on the way that Scripture depicts Mary as the New Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Temple Gate, and the builder of the Temple.

All of these are images of purity and sinlessness, and total consecration to God:
  • Eve was without original or actual sin while she was still named “Woman,” 
  • the Ark and the Temple were made with the finest materials, and consecrated totally to the Lord, and
  • the builder of the Temple had to have hands free of blood (which is why David couldn't build the Temple). 
Theotokos Panachranta (c. 1050)
This is also why Mary is a Virgin: her Virginity is a symbol of her sinlessness, and of her unadulterated devotion to God. Yesterday, I talked about another Marian image that the early Christians pointed to: that she's an Icon of the Church, which is also a Virgin, Bride, and Mother.

The Church Fathers immediately pick up these things, as I've noted before in the context of the Eve imagery. By the time St. Augustine lays out the doctrine of original sin, he's careful to exempt the Virgin Mary, and doesn't feel any need to explain why. The early Church already knew she was sinless.

This was the universal belief of the Church, and hardly a post-Reformation development of some sort. Even Luther believed in Mary's sinlessness (although he was contradictory on whether or not he believed in the Immaculate Conception). It would be much more accurate to say that the post-Reformation development was Protestantism diminishing Mary more and more. If you don't believe me, read the immediate pre-Reformation writings on Mary, and tell me which Church would be comfortable proclaiming those things today.

Where, prior to the Reformation, there was resistance to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, much of it centered around two issues: (1) the doctrine of original sin, and (2) the point at which the soul enters the body. On the first of these, you'll occasionally find those (like many Eastern Orthodox today) who admit that Mary never sinned, but believe she still suffered the taint of original sin. This raises broader questions about how the East and West tend to understand original sin. On the second, you'll occasionally find those, like St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that “the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before her birth from the womb,” but believed that this occurred after conception, at the moment of “ensoulment,” in which a rational soul was infused in her body.

This is all a far cry from Protestantism for two reasons. First, even these objections presuppose that Mary never sinned. But second, Protestants tend to agree with Catholics (rather than Orthodox) about original sin, and don't believe in the idea of post-conception “ensoulment.”

II. The Assumption of Mary

Jean Fouquet, Death of the Virgin (c. 1455)
As for the Assumption, there are passages that are understood as prophetic of this event.  For example, in John 14:3, Jesus says of the Church, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” If Mary is the icon of the Church, as the early Christians believed, the Assumption is a fulfillment of this promise.

But it should be admitted up front that it's true that Scripture doesn't record it happening, in the sense of describing it as a historical event.  But this makes sense: it probably occurred after the Gospels and Acts were written, and was certainly outside of the time period covered by those writings.   This is true of other significant early-Christian events: namely, the Destruction of Jerusalem, which was of enormous impact for the Church, but which is never described (only prophesied). 

There's a decent chance that the only Book of the New Testament written after the Assumption was the Book of Revelation.  In Revelation, we see what appears to be Mary, in her glorified body, enthroned in Heaven (Rev. 12:1). I don't think it takes eisegesis to conclude that the woman of Revelation 12, depicted as the Mother of Jesus (Rev. 12:5), is Mary.

So Revelation 12 seems to assume the truth of the Assumption, although I can certainly see the ambiguity. In any case, we're not believers in sola Scriptura. It's enough to say that Scripture is consistent with the doctrine of the Assumption, and that the doctrine is of Apostolic origin. Within the early Church, the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) was celebrated in art and Liturgy throughout various parts of the global Church.  Again, it's impossible to write this off a post-Reformation development, because the Feast is celebrated by Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts alike, and we haven't been in a unified Church since the mid-400s.

Is it possible that the Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts are all wrong on this? I'd say no: to claim that every part of the Apostolic Church is in error is to simply cut oneself from the Apostolic Church.


There's a common misunderstanding that because the Church didn't dogmatically define the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption until a later date (1854 and 1950).  But an honest examination of the evidence shows quite clearly that innumerable early Christians held firmly to these dogmas.  True, as with every Christian doctrine, there was occasional dissent.  The very reason it's necessary for the Church to make the effort to settle a particular topic is precisely because dissent and confusion arises from time to time.  But the idea that these are some sort of post-Reformation innovations is historically false.

Update: I'm going to be on Son Rise Morning Show next week, talking about this post.  More details later.

The Virgin Mary, Icon of the Church

The first half of this is taken from an earlier post, but I wanted to give its own post, for future reference:

Mary is a living image of the Church, which is why we refer to both Mary and the Church as Mother.  St. Ambrose describes Mary in this way, in explainingLuke 1:27:
Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Kastoria icon) (14th c.)
Well [does the Gospel say]: married but a virgin; because she is the type of the Church, which is also married but remains immaculate.  The Virgin [Church] conceived us by the Holy Spirit and, as a virgin, gave birth to us without pain.  And perhaps this is why holy Mary, married to one man[Joseph], is made fruitful by another [the Holy Spirit], to show that the individual churches are filled with the Spirit and with grace, even as they are united to the person of a temporal priest.
Lumen Gentium picks up on these themes, showing the New Eve imagery to be a both/and, not an either/or, between Mary and the Church:
63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.(18*) For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. (19*) By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God's messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren,(299) namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.
So both Mary and the Church are Virgin Mothers. St. Paul uses virginal imagery to describe the sinlessness of the Church in Ephesians 5:25-27, depicting the Church as a pure and spotless Bride awaiting Her Souse, Christ.  And, of course, Mary is a Virgin (Lk. 1:34).  Yet both become Mothers: biologically, in the case of Mary, and spiritually, in the case of both Mary and the Church.

Mary and the Child (Sinai icon) (13th c.)
This Virgin Mother imagery is found interweaved throughout the Old Testament.  We hear echoes in Genesis 3:15 (about the Seed of the Woman, suggesting that a man wasn't involved).  We also hear it in Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:5, in which Hannah cries out,
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
More obviously, we can see it in Isaiah 54:1-5, in which Zion is depicted as a Virgin Mother:
"Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.

"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.  For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.

"Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth."
And this is why it's important that the Virgin Mary was a Virgin -- why it was worth specifying in the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14. Because her Virginity is an external symbol of her sinlessness, and utter devotion to God.

Disingenuous Arguments for the HHS Mandate

I've more or less said my piece in response to the HHS Mandate -- it's about all I blogged about last week, and I'm pleased to move on to other topics, short of any major developments.  But I wanted to say one thing in passing: the arguments I've heard in favor of the HHS Mandate haven't just been bad. In many cases, they've been outright disingenuous.

For example, the Times has descended to putting religious liberty in scare quotes and claiming that opposing the Mandate would “deprive [the Church's] followers or employees of the right to disagree with that teaching.” That argument is utterly asinine: a fine example of false parallelism.  Consider.  It's a functional violation of my right to be pro-life, if I'm conscripted to pay for what I believe is murder.  But in what world is it a violation of a pro-choicer's right to be pro-choice if I don't pay for her abortion?  Is anybody willing to defend the Times' editorial here? Or are they just assuming their readers won't think too hard about what they're being fed?

Others have responded to some of the howlers (like the idea that 98% of Catholic women use contraception), but I wanted to directly tackle those who claim that we're just against the HHS Mandate because we're (a) conservative, (b) Catholic, or (c) against birth control:
    Cardinal Mahoney at the “May 1st Immigration Rally”
  • This isn't a Left / Right Issue.   The New York Times referred to this as “a phony crisis over "religious liberty" engendered by the right.” That's just not a serious claim.  Prominent liberal pundits like E.J. Dionne, Michael Sean Winters and Chris Matthews came out against the HHS Mandate.  Even within the Obama Administration, numerous high-profile figures tried to stop the Mandate from going forward: Politico names Vice President Joe Biden and then-Chief of Staff Bill Daley as two who tried to stop Obama from doing this, while ABC also mentions Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.  And neither the USCCB nor the American bishops can be pigeonholed as simply conservative.  For example, Cardinal Mahoney, who appears to have been the first to voice his objection, is a beloved icon of the religious left for his work marching with Cesar Chavez, and encouraging civil disobedience over Bush-era immigration laws (in fact, the New York Times even permitted him an Op-ed for this latter cause).

  • Albert Mohler
  • This isn't a Catholic / Non-Catholic Issue.  Just as the opposition to the HHS Mandate cuts across party lines, so too does it cut across religious lines.  Numerous non-Catholic religious leaders have spoken out, like Rick Warren (Saddleback Church), Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary), Richard Land (Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty commission), Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and so on.  Nor is it just religious leaders.  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, who has come out swinging against the Mandate, is an agnostic.  Evangelical former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee captured this well by declaring, “We are all Catholics now.

  • This isn't a Birth Control Issue.  Many of those folks that I just mentioned, whether non-Catholics or liberal Catholics, are fine with the use of contraception.  They oppose the HHS Mandate because it's a violation of religious freedom, whether they share those same religious beliefs or not (Chris Matthews captures this well in his reaction). 
This is about religious freedom, pure and simple.  James Taranto captured this well, calling one of his editorials against the Mandate, “Birth Control Yes, Government Control No.”  So did Paul Gleiser, who wrote:
If a practicing Catholic or a Catholic institution in the United States can be compelled by the government to act against religious faith, it’s only a matter of time before some equally offensive compulsion is brought down upon you by the same heavy hand of a government that refuses to respect its limits. 
That’s why we’re all Catholics now.
Ironically, Obama finally seems to have achieved his dream of uniting people of every race, creed, and political affiliation -- but this is probably not how he envisioned it playing out.

The Arab Spring's Pietà

The 2011 World Press Photo of the Year is this one, by Samuel Aranda:

The caption: “A woman hugs a wounded relative inside a mosque used as a hospital during clashes in Sana, Yemen on Oct. 15, 2011.”   You can read more about why this photo was chosen from World Press Photo or the New York Times.

 It's hard to look at this photo and not think of the Pietà.  While Michaelangelo's is the most famous, in my opinion, the photo is actually closer to Luis de Morales', or this one, an 1876 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau:

Both images are high-resolution, so feel free to click on them to make them larger.  Personally, I've found the comparison between the two images fascinating, both in terms of what they depict in common, and in how they differ.  That's all I'll say for now.

Cardinal Wuerl: HHS Mandate - Nothing Has Changed

This arrived in my inbox this evening, from Cardinal Wuerl.  It's consistent with the comments he made at Mass on Friday, and I'm thrilled to see someone with his prominence speaking out so forthrightly.  The only edits I've made were bolding a few parts that I thought were particularly important:

February 13, 2012
Dear Friends,

       Last Friday President Obama attempted to respond to the strong objections that have been raised by the Catholic Church and other faith communities to the Department of Health and Human Services’ unprecedented mandate that would force religious institutions, in violation of their religious beliefs, to provide and pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization.  Unfortunately, the “accommodation” that the President announced still presents grave moral concerns and continues to violate our constitutionally protected religious liberty.

       The administration’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, particularly in the definition of who is and who is not a religious employer.  Despite last month’s unanimous Supreme Court decision upholding the right of religious institutions to choose whom they appoint to teach their faith and carry out their mission, the administration remains unwavering in its attempt to assert control in matters of religion.  Our Catholic schools, social service organizations, hospitals and universities are no less Catholic than our churches, but apparently, these institutions are not considered to be Catholic enough to meet the definition required by the HHS mandate for a religious exemption.

       As for the insurance-related provisions themselves, the federal mandate remains essentially unchanged.  The only “fix” offered by the President was to propose that insurance companies, instead of religious institutions directly, be required to cover procedures and products they find objectionable at no cost in their insurance policies.  Regardless of how it is characterized, shifting the cost of these drugs and procedures to insurance companies does not make their requirement any less objectionable or lessen the infringement on our religious liberty and rights of conscience.

       For example, President Obama’s announcement does not provide any accommodation for the Archdiocese of Washington.  Like many large organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, this archdiocese does not purchase group health insurance from insurance companies.  In order to provide insurance consistent with our religious beliefs, our health benefit plan is a self-insured plan that extends coverage to 3,600 employees.  This means that the archdiocese is the insurer and the archdiocese covers all claim costs.  There is no insurance company involved.  Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the HHS mandate, self-insured organizations like ours are treated the same as regular insurance providers.  This means that like Aetna or Blue Cross, the archdiocese and other self-insured religious organizations would be required to both provide and pay for drugs and procedures we consider morally wrong in our employee health plans.

        Even for religious institutions who are employers and who purchase group health insurance from insurance companies, the problem created by the mandate remains unresolved.  Those institutions will still be compelled to purchase insurance policies that provide free abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization.  Since these additional drugs and procedures will be automatically provided by the insurer by virtue of the  insurance policy (even though not expressly listed in the policy), it is no response to our moral concerns to say that religious employers will not have to pay for them because their insurance companies will. Catholic institutions will be forced to pay for and maintain policies that enable their employees to receive insurance coverage of products and procedures that violate our religious convictions.

        At this point, it appears that nothing has really changed. Religious employers are still being compelled to provide insurance plans that offer free abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives in violation of their religious freedom.

        What is at stake here is a question of human freedom.  The authors of the Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of religion as our nation’s first and founding principle.  We should not be reduced to petitioning the government for rights that the Constitution already guarantees.  The only complete solution to the problem that this mandate poses for religious liberty is for Congress to pass legislation to protect our freedom.  The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is one of several bills that have been introduced for this very purpose.

        We cannot become complacent or allow ourselves to be distracted by incomplete proposals presented as definitive solutions. The Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty is working on a formal response and action steps.  In the weeks and months ahead, please continue to pray and share this information with others so that we may reverse the effects of this misguided regulation.

            In the hope that this information is helpful and with every good wish, I am

                                                                                   Faithfully in Christ,

                                                                                   Donald Cardinal Wuerl
                                                                                   Archbishop of Washington

Is it Idolatry to say that Mary Saves Us?

A Protestant friend e-mailed me, troubled by something he'd read in an article about the Rosary, in which the author said:
The will of the Blessed Virgin is completely conformed to that of Her Son, in other word – God. She is the most humble and chaste spouse of the Holy Ghost and will never do anything contrary to the will of God. Thus, we ought to trust the Blessed Mother just as God has, because She ultimately brings us to God. Mary is our Salvation, and Christ is the source of our Salvation. Mary is the Gate and Christ is the Key. It is only through Her that we are saved.
This, he said, sounded like pure idolatry.  Is it?  Let's consider (1) what this claim doesn't mean, (2) why it's not blasphemous or idolatrous to say that Mary saves us, and (3) the manner in which Mary saves us.

I. Christ's Unique Role in Salvation

Cristo Rei of Dili
As the Catechsim explains (CCC 613-14), Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross is both the definitive redemption of men, and utterly unique.  No sacrifice before or after can ever compare with God the Son giving His Life for the sins of the world:
613 Christ's death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29; cf. 8:34-36; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19), and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28; cf. Ex 24:8; Lev 16:15-16; 1 Cor 11:25).

614 This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices (Cf. Heb 10:10). First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience (Cf. Jn 10:17-18; 15:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 4:10).
So Christ is simply irreplaceable.  You couldn't just crucify Mary, or any of the Saints, in His Place. In fact, the very reason that we have Mary and the Saints is through the merits of Christ.

So before we speak of the sense in which Mary saves us, we need to speak of the sense in which she doesn't.  Mary doesn't perform Christ's role.  Only He can do that.

II. Is it Idolatrous to Say that Mary Saves Us?

Masaccio, Baptism of Neophytes (1425)
Given what I've just said, it seems as if there's not room to speak of anyone saving us but Christ.  But in fact, Scripture is quite clearly to the contrary.  True, Christ's Atoning Death on the Cross, and that alone, has the power to save us. But the application of His Atonement are applied in our lives in various ways, and Scripture properly speaks of these things as salvific, too.

So, for example, we hear about Baptism saving us (1 Peter 3:21), as well as grace (Acts 15:11), our faith (Luke 7:50), and so on. In fact, Scripture refers to individuals other than Christ as saving us, and refers to our ability to save others.  For example, Jude 1:22-23 says:
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Obviously, St. Jude isn't suggesting that we're going to die upon the Cross for our neighbor, personally atoning for their sins. So we don't save them in that way. Rather, we save them by bringing them to Christ. It's not dissimilar from Ezekiel 3:18-19, in which God says:
When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
And St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:16,
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
What do all of these things have in common?  In each case, what's meant is that these are the means by which salvation reaches us. It's similar to how we can say both that Oswald killed Kennedy, and that a bullet killed Kennedy. One was the instrument of the other, so there's not even a slight tension between those two claims.

Whether they recognize it or not, this is a distinction that Protestants recognize all the time.  Nobody (at least, nobody I've heard), says, “I got saved in 32 A.D.”  But, of course, there's a sense in which that's when Christ saved all of us.  Rather, people speak of the point in their lives in which they were saved (whether at the moment of their conversion, or at their Baptism), they're pointing to the application of Christ's Atonement in their lives.

So yes, Christ saves you, but also, Baptism saves you, faith saves you, the Gospel saves you, perseverance in sound living and doctrine saves you, those who bring you the Gospel save you, and so on.  To treat any of this as idolatrous or blasphemous would be completely absurd.  So why is it wrong for Catholics to say the exact same thing of Mary?  The problem here seems to be Protestant Mary-phobia, rather than any coherent problem with speaking of someone or something other than Christ saving us.

III. How Mary Saves Us

Okay, so it's not blasphemous to say that Mary saves us, as long as we don't mean that she occupies Christ's place.  She saves us by bringing us to Christ -- which is probably what the original commenter meant by saying that “Mary is our Salvation, and Christ is the source of our Salvation.”  She's the nurse bringing us the antidote to sin.  Christ is the Antidote.

Here's how Lumen Gentium describes Mary's role in saving us:
Antonio da Correggio, Adoration of the Child (1520)
61. Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. 
62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.(15*) By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.(16*) This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.(17*)

For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. 
The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.
So while merely human (unlike her Son), Mary aides in our salvation in the following ways:
    Madonna Palafrenieri (detail) (1606)
  • Her earthly life: If we can speak of a preacher as saving us by bringing us the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:16), we can surely speak of Mary as saving us by participating in God's plan of salvation.  St. Paul brought Jesus to the Gentiles, figuratively speaking.  Mary brought Jesus to the entire world, literally.  Just as Eve took the fruit of sin from the tree and gave it to the first Adam, Mary took the fruit of her womb, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), and led Him to the Tree (1 Peter 2:24; John 2:4-5).

  • Her Motherhood:  Mary is the Mother of Christ (Luke 1:43), and the Mother of Christians (Gen. 3:20; John 19:26-27).  Having God as Father means having Mary and the Church as Mother (Rev. 12:17), and other Christians as brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:48-50).  So you can't have Jesus without Mary, any more than you can love God while hating a brother or sister in Christ (1 John 4:20).  God doesn't just invite us into a one-on-One relationship with Him. He invites us into a family, and Mary plays a vital role in that family.

  • Her Intercession: As a good mother, Mary intercedes on our behalf, just as Abraham did for his nephew Lot (Gen 18-19).  James 5:16 says that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” tying the effectiveness of intercessory prayer to the sanctity and righteousness of the person praying.  All of this points strongly towards Mary.  After all, which of Christ's followers was more righteous than Mary?  And which of Christ's followers loves the Church and Her fallen members more than Mary?
So Mary plays a unique role in our salvation, because of her role as Mother of God, bringing Jesus Christ to the world; as Mother of Christians, prayerfully caring for her children; and as a sinless Saint in Heaven, interceding for us all constantly.  None of these diminishes the Cross - not even a little bit.  On the contrary, these are all ways that Mary leads us to the Cross.  So yes, Mary saves us, and no, we can't have Christ without Mary, and no, this isn't idolatry, or anything like it.

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