WHEN the Reformation brought a conflict of new ideas into Christian Europe, it was at first uncertain how they would be met. After a brief hesitation, the Church decided to repress them by force, if necessary, through the civil power guided by the Inquisition, whether by the stake as in Spain and France, by massacre as in the Vaudois valleys, or by mass executions as in the Low Countries. The early reformers had suffered too much by this method to be willing to approve it, and at first Luther and Calvin wrote in condemnation of it. The Protestant extermination of Anabaptists was more on political and social than on religious grounds. The new church had not formally pronounced itself on this subject and, until the case of Servetus, persecution purely for heresy had been as rare among Protestants as it was usual among Catholics. Even after the leaders of the Reformation had generally approved the death of Servetus there was a significant if timid minority that stood for the principle that there should be no persecution for religion; that conscience should be free since faith was given by God rather than to be imposed by man, and hence should not be subject to force. Even before the publication of De Haereticis, or of Calvin’s De fensio, Castellio had prefixed to his Latin translation of the Bible (1551) a dedication to Edward VI., the young Protestant King of England, in which he made what has been called the first manifesto in favor of toleration. 1 In this he urges that true religion makes slow progress be cause we engage in endless disputes, which issue only in bloodshed, while we condemn those that differ from us, and pretend to do it in the name of Christ. But it is absurd to use earthly weapons in spiritual warfare, in which the enemies of Christians, which are vices, are to be overcome by virtues. If we tolerate among us Turks, Jews, and sinners in general, how much more should we suffer those that confess the name of Christ, but would rather die than violate their consciences. In the three years that followed, Castellio evidently pursued this subject further, with especial attention to what others had said on the subject, so that when the death of Servetus had forced the question of toleration into public notice, and Calvin had with all his ability defended the principle of persecution, the ground was well prepared for De Haereticis.

Calvin’s argument for the capital punishment of heretics was based upon the assumption, at the time almost universally accepted without question or examination, that one’s eternal salvation depended upon one’s acceptance of the central dogmas of the Trinity, the eternal divinity of Christ, and the like. Castellio did not make a direct personal attack upon Calvin, but he sought to shatter the force of this argument by boldly challenging the truth of this major premise. In his dedication to Duke Christoph,2 which bears a striking resemblance to that to Edward VI., he says that the cultivation of Christian character is neglected while Christians spend their time in disputes about speculative questions, such as the nature of Christ, the Trinity, predestination, free will, also about the eucharist and baptism, which are not necessary to salvation, and do not make a man better; while they condone moral offences, and condemn as heretics those with whom they disagree. He hates heretics, but the name is often misapplied, and the offence is too severely punished, whereas the extreme punishment should be banishment.

Castellio’s book, with the persuasive reasoning of its dedication amply reinforced by extensive quotations from so many honored Christian writers, produced a profound impression in the Swiss churches. Beza, now thoroughly aroused as Calvin’s champion, at once saw what a critical challenge was offered to the whole orthodox system by this revolutionary book. He wrote in alarm to Bullinger: ‘If what he has spewed out in his preface is to be endured, what, pray, have we left of the Christian religion? The doctrines of the office of Christ, the Trinity, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, justification, free will, the state of souls after death, are either useless or at least not necessary to salvation. No one is to be condemned as a heretic. You see what this leads to. I have therefore decided to reply.3 In order to spare Calvin the trouble, who was busily occupied in writing his commentary on Genesis, 4 and to counteract and correct the impression created by Castellio’s book, Beza undertook to prepare a reply. He went at his self-imposed task conamore, and published his work early in September. 5 Regarding Servetus as a monster, ‘of all men that have ever lived the most wicked and blasphemous,’ and those that condemned his death as ‘emissaries of Satan,’ 6 and the liberty of conscience for which Castellio had pleaded as a simply diabolical doctrine, 7 he went on with all the wrath of intense conviction to controvert Castellio’s positions point by point, and on historical and scriptural grounds to argue successively, on the contrary, that heretics are to be punished, that they are to be punished by the civil magistrate, and that in extreme cases they are to be put to death. 8

Beza had early in life studied law, and with great skill he presented a clear, methodical, consistent and eloquent argument, which must have seemed conclusive for those that accepted his (and Calvin’s) premise, that belief in the Trinity is the very foundation of the Christian religion, and absolutely necessary to salvation — the point with which Castellio squarely took issue in contending that this and the related doctrines not only are unscriptural, speculative and in controversy, but are in any case of subordinate importance. Beza argued this point at length. 9 He declared that to make religion consist, as Castellio did, in a pure heart, and in the correction and reformation of life, is blasphemy, impiety, sacrilege; 10 for the chief aim of society is to maintain religion, and at the centre of this lies doctrine, so that one who attacks this undermines society. Society therefore must defend itself by force, even unto death if necessary, since no greater crime is conceivable than blasphemy, which leads souls to eternal death. Zanchi at Strassburg was also moved to write a treatise on the same subject, though after seeing what Beza had written he felt that his own work might be superfluous; while some dissuaded him lest it make the case of Protestants in Catholic lands worse rather than better. It is not known to have been published. 11 While Beza’s work was calculated to confirm Calvin’s supporters in their views, it does not seem otherwise to have made any notable impression, unless by supporting Catholics in continuing their policy against Protestants, which eighteen years later culminated in the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre in France.

There was, however, a significant minority to whom this defence of the criminal prosecution of heretics did not in the least appeal. It was natural that feeling on this subject should be strongest among the Italian and French refugees in Switzerland who had themselves fled their native lands to escape the very fate that had overtaken Servetus, and now began to be disillusioned as they found a Protestant Inquisition threatening to take the place of the Catholic one. Several of these were persons of no little distinction, who might have added lustre to the Protestant cause. Thus in the course of Servetus’s trial, Professor Matteo Gribaldi, a celebrated jurist from Padua, who will be further spoken of in the next chapter, happened to come to Geneva; and when told of Servetus he said he had never felt that one should die for one’s opinions, however heretical, gave reasons for his view, and unsuccessfully sought an interview with Calvin on the subject. 12 Laelius Socinus wrote to a friend in Geneva that the blood of Abel was crying to God, and that Cain would find no peace on earth. Ochino returning from England reached Geneva the very day after the execution of Servetus, and when it was reported to him he expressed his disapproval, and was disliked for it. 13 Some liberal Protestants in the Grisons sent a poem 14 in which it was said that if Calvin had put one Servetus to death, countless others had come to life; that though his body was burned his spirit was uninjured; that if Christ himself came to Geneva he would be crucified; that one must not go there to find Christian liberty, for there was another Pope there, only one that burned men alive, whereas the Roman one strangled them first.

In fact, nearly all the Italians at Geneva, even those that had no quarrel with Calvin’s doctrines, were said to have been greatly shocked by his cruelty, and so for the most part were the Protestants in France. 15 At Zurich also, so Walther wrote Hailer, Servetus had more sympathizers among the Italians and the French than one would have thought. 16 Camillo Renato, whose influence in the churches of the Grisons has already been noted, addressed to Calvin a long poem in elegant Latin hexameters, reproaching him for his cruel and unchristian act in burning Servetus. 17 Under the name of Alfonso Lincurio of Tarragona, otherwise unknown to us, there appeared early in 1555, not long after Calvin’s Defensio, an Apology for Servetus, containing an eloquent de fence of him, with mordant irony attacking his persecutors for their cruel, unjust and unchristian treatment.18 Finally, mention should be made of Guillaume Postel, that extraordinary and enigmatical character, famed for his marvelous learning, who, without ever having heard of Servetus until after his death, saw in Italy a manuscript of what may have been a first draft of the Christianismi Restitutio, and found in it such a resemblance to his own views of the World-soul and the Trinity, that he regarded him as his pupil. Having been informed in’ Paris that Calvin accused him of agreeing with Servetus in various doctrines, he composed an Apology for Servetus, 19 in which he bore witness to the large number of Servetus’s followers in Italy, and boldly pleaded for freedom of conscience and speech in religion as against the repressive policy of Calvin.

 The De Haereticis of Castellio was written not as an answer to Calvin’s Defensio, but contemporary with it as a part of a campaign of the Basel liberals in favor of toleration and against the policy of Calvin at Geneva, which was threatening to spread further. It was understood, according to Vergerio, that there was at Basel an organized movement of natives and Italians to this end; and he reported recent information from Venice that the Servetian plague was spreading there a great deal too much (plus nimis).20 Calvin saw in Castellio as the centre of this ‘conspiracy’ a beast as poisonous as he was wild and stubborn. 21 Undismayed by Beza’s reply, Castellio now composed another book which, ignoring Beza, attacked Calvin directly and unsparingly. This new work, Contra libellum Calvini, 22 apparently could not find a publisher that dared print it at the time when it was written in 1554, so that it circulated only in manuscript copies. It was not until a half-century later that it first saw the light in Holland, as part of the struggle for toleration then being waged by the Arminians against the Calvinists there. 23

After an introduction by the Dutch editor, the author in a brief preface states it as his purpose to undertake an examination of Calvin book (the Defensio). He is not a disciple of Servetus, and has not even seen his books. He is not defending his doctrine, but attacking Calvin’s; hence he will not discuss the Trinity, baptism or other difficult questions. He will take up passages of Calvin in his very words, and then comment upon them so as to show how false they are and how bloodthirsty Calvin is (p. Aii.b). The rest of the book assumes the form of a Dialogue between Calvinus and Vaticanus, and is often cited as though this were its proper title. It is in fact not a dialogue at all, but a running commentary on Calvin’s book, passage by passage, as bearing on the question of the rightfulness of putting heretics to death. It is Castellio himself that speaks under the name of Vaticanus. The theological part of Calvin’s argument is passed without notice, and the criticism is confined to the question of the right to punish heretics, and the facts of the trial and death of Servetus. Castellio chooses his passages for criticism with great skill, overlooking no vulnerable point. His criticisms are alert, biting, often bitter and full of sarcasm. He handles Calvin without gloves, turning an unsparing light on his inconsistencies, his self-contradictions, his forced interpretations of Scripture in his own interest, his preference for the rigid Old Testament law over the Christian law of love, his total lack of the Christian spirit of gentleness, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. It is shown that he surpasses even the Papists in cruelty (pp. Db—Diii.). Out of scores of telling passages that invite quotation, three must suffice as samples. If it is not blind rage to torture in the flames a man who is calling on the name of Christ, and not only is not convicted but is not even accused of any crime, then there is no such thing as blind rage. (p. Cviii.)

To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man. When the Genevans killed Servetus, they did not defend a doctrine, but they killed a man. To protect a doctrine is not the Magistrate’s affair (what has the sword to do with doctrine?) but the teacher’s. But it is the Magistrate’s affair to protect the teacher, as it is to protect the farmer, and the smith, and the physician and others against injury. Thus if Servetus had wished to kill Calvin, the Magistrate would properly have defended Calvin. But when Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings. (p. Eb). In reply to Calvin’s argument that the sword is put into the hand of the Magistrate for him to defend sound doctrine, Castellio replies:

Paul calls sound doctrine that which renders men sound, i.e., endowed with charity and faith unfeigned and a good conscience; but unsound, that which renders them meddlesome, quarrelsome, insolent, ungodly, unholy, profane, murderers of fathers, etc. (I. Tim. i. 5, 9 f), and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. But they observe another law; for they take for sound those that think with them about Baptism, about the Supper, about Predestination, etc. Such men, though they be covetous, envious, slanderers, hypocrites, liars, buffoons, usurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound doctrine, are easily endured, nor is any one killed for men’s vices, unless one has committed murder or theft or some atrocious crime of this sort, or has displeased the preachers; for this with them is just like a sin against the Holy Spirit, as is now said in a proverb everywhere common. But if one disagrees with them about Baptism, or the Supper, Justification, Faith, etc., he is a Heretic, he is a Devil, he must be opposed by all men on land or sea, as an eternal enemy of the Church, and a wicked destroyer of sound doctrine, even though his life be otherwise blameless, yea gentle, patient, kind, merciful, generous, and indeed religious and god-fearing, so that in his conduct neither friends nor enemies have anything to complain of. All these virtues, and this innocence of life (which Paul did not think it unseemly to approve in himself) cannot with them protect a man from being regarded as wicked and blasphemous, if he disagrees with them in any point of religion. (p. Iiv, b—v.) Appended to this ‘Dialogue’ is the brief Historia de morte Serveti, which has already been mentioned,24 together with several other brief items relevant to the subject.

The rising tide of criticism against him and his persecution of Servetus gave Calvin much concern. ‘If you knew only a tenth part of how distressed I am by violent abuse,’ he wrote to the minister at Montbeliard ‘your human feeling would make you groan at the afflictions to which I have had to harden myself. The dogs are yelping at me from every quarter. On all sides I am being called a heretic. Every slander that can be invented is being heaped upon me. Envious and spiteful men even of our own flock are attacking me more outrageously than our open enemies among the Papists.’ 25 Many were now more eager than ever to read Servetus’s books; and at Basel, so Gratarolo wrote Bullinger, they were much incensed that they had been burned, and were willing to pay a high price for them. He complained that he him self had almost no friends there, as he was neither Servetian, Coelian, Castalionian, or Lutheran. 26 Zebédée, pastor at Noyon, declared in veiled terms that while the fires of the Spanish Inquisition were outdone by those in France, those at Geneva outdid them both. 27 Nearly two years after the death of Servetus, the jurist Hotoman wrote to Builinger from Basel that most people there were devoted to Castellio, while Calvin was in no better odor there than in Paris; and that if one reproved a man for profane or lewd speech, he would be called a Calvinist as a name of insult. On all sides the dogs were barking violently and savagely. 28 All this did not swerve Calvin from his course. But at the very end of 1563 Castellio died, hounded till his death by persistent persecutions initiated from Geneva; and five months later Calvin also died. 29

The views that Calvin and Beza had defended long remained dominant, but those of Castellio also survived and gradually spread far and wide. In 1557 or 1558 an Italian scholar named Acontius (Aconzio, Contio), whom we shall later find in England preparing the way for our movement, feeling himself no longer safe in Italy, crossed the Alps and appeared at Basel, where he published his first work. He will certainly have known Castellio at this time, and was evidently influenced by him. For in 1564 he returned from England to Basel and published a fresh manifesto in favor of liberty of conscience and tolerance, which occupied the same standpoint and in part expressed the same line of thought as Castellio’s De Haereticis. It continued in print for over a century, and by its broad spirit and temperate manner had an incalculable influence in promoting a tolerant spirit throughout Europe. 30

The sharp struggle for generous freedom of conscience in the reformed churches of the Grisons has already been briefly spoken of. 31 It finally culminated in 1571 in a drawn battle between Egli and Gantner, two ministers of Chur, with the issue drawn on the question of punishment of heretics. The two champions drew for their materials in argument on the two works by Castellio, and Beza’s De Haereticis, and thus the influence of the former was powerfully employed on the side of toleration in that part of Switzerland. 32

 At the very time in which this trouble was brewing in the Grisons, there appeared another Italian refugee, one Mino Celso of Siena, 33 a man of distinguished family and mature age, and reputed for his scholarship. He had perhaps been converted to the Reformation by his fellow-townsman Ochino. Fleeing before the Inquisition under Pope Paul IV. he came to the Grisons in 1569. Here he was greatly disappointed to find so many doctrinal dissensions among the reformed, and that corporal or even capital punishment of heretics was defended by the majority. 34 The controversy between Egli and Gantner about the punishment of heretics, at which he was an observer, disturbed him so much that he determined to write in Italian a book on the subject for his fellow-countrymen there, who largely espoused the liberal view. His personal circumstances hindered him from printing it at the time, and he soon afterwards removed to Basel, where he engaged in literary work. Among other things he edited a new edition of Castellio’s Latin and French New Testament. At Basel the lively interest in freedom of conscience revived his own interest in the subject, and moved him to translate his work into Latin and publish it. Before the revision was quite finished he died, probably between 1575 and 1577. 35

Celso’s work was published soon after, 36 under the care of one of hi friends. The original Italian draft doubtless used many of the arguments of Castellio’s treatise, which had been freely drawn upon in the debate at Chur, and the present work obviously took the Traite’ des Hérétiques as a basis, enlarging, completing and paraphrasing it. It also used generous extracts from Castellio’s other writings and from Acontius’s recent work, and quoted from a much larger number of writers ancient and modern, some sixty in all. The work does not in fact contain much that is new on the subject; but the material is better arranged, being grouped under four main heads: Scripture testimonies in favor of toleration; Testimonies of various writers; Answers to various arguments against toleration; Duty of the Magistrate not to use force in opposing error. Beza meant to write a refutation, but lacked leisure to do so; and the work long served to extend and prolong the influence of Castellio, by furnishing a practical manual for those that would defend freedom of conscience.37

It was in Holland, however, that Castellio’s advocacy of religious toleration was exerted to greatest effect. 38 Here, after the struggle with the Catholics had been won and the Republic proclaimed in 1578, a form of Calvinism succeeded to power more strict, if possible, than that of Geneva, and a new battle for religious freedom had to be fought. The pioneer in this struggle was the Secretary of State, Dirk Volkertsz. Coornhert (1522—1590), who had had ample experience of the troubles that come of religious intolerance. He opposed obligatory confessions of faith, though here the chief stumbling-block was not the doctrine of the Trinity but that of predestination. He translated two of Castellio’s tracts (1581, 1582), and did much to make his thought known. He thus became the advance herald of the liberalizing movement in Dutch Protestantism that came in the next generation to be known as Arminianism. A conservative reaction followed, and Beza’s De Haereticis was published in Dutch translation in i6ox. This was answered by Castellio’s Contra libellum Calvini in 1612, and by a complete edition of his minor works a year later. How much Castellio had influenced the early thought of the Remonstrants is seen by the fact that of the five articles that they opposed to the objectionable five points of Calvinism in 1610, the first four are almost literally the conclusions of the four Dialogues of Castellio, and the fifth the conclusion of another tract of his. 39 Castellio was thus, after his death, the inspiration and effective source of the liberal development in Holland whose intimate relation with our movement will later be considered in detail.

This whole movement with which we are concerned may be regarded in two associated but yet distinct aspects. The one that has most often been emphasized is the theological, concerning the development of the doctrines that it has favored. The other and more significant aspect concerns the fundamental principles of freedom, reason and tolerance that have evolved in its history and been ever increasingly realized as the necessary conditions of the fullest development of religious thought and life. As regards the former aspect, the figure of Servetus stands out above all others in the beginnings of the movement. As regards the latter, Sebastian Castellio deserves more ample recognition than he has as yet received from more than a very few. In this respect he is entitled to be considered, even more than Servetus, as the real founder of liberal Christianity; for the first and most essential of its three controlling principles named above is that of generous tolerance of differing views. This is, at bottom, the outgrowth of an entirely new conception of religion as centered not in dogma but in life and character; and it is of the very essence of this conception of religion to regard freedom and reason not as incidental, but as fundamental conditions of a thoroughly wholesome existence of religion. At a time of extreme dogmatism, Castellio was the first in Protestant history to emphasize and place on firm and enduring foundations this principle of tolerance. It is therefore but just to honor him as one of the prime founders of liberal Protestantism. The succeeding chapters of this work will trace the widening spread and increasing prevalence of this element which had its source in him.

It remains to speak of the especial contribution made to our movement by Servetus. It runs in two widely different lines. As to the first of these, his great hope and purpose was to reform the doctrinal system of Christianity before it became hardened into dogma. In his earlier works this reform extended little beyond the doctrine of the Trinity; but in the end his larger design was to reform the whole body of Christian theology. His method of treating the subject is poorly ordered, and the presentation of it is piecemeal and marred by grave defects. It still waits for some one to rearrange it and present it in clear and logical order, shorn of excrescences. If this could once be done, and the whole set forth in comparison with the old scholastic theology and the newer systems of the reformers, Servetus’s proposed reconstruction of Christianity would be found to present some very attractive features, and regret might be aroused that some at least of his reforms were not adopted. His own conviction was that if it could only be once fairly considered on its merits along with competing systems, it would be enthusiastically adopted by those whom the Roman system failed to satisfy. But his work fell still-born; and he perished without having formed a school or left even a professed disciple to adopt and carry on his system as a whole.

The influence of Servetus upon the development of Protestant theology, therefore, was simply this; that by his criticism of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity he led many to reconsider the foundations of this doctrine for themselves. Yet from this time on, the doctrine of the Trinity, which at the beginning of the Reformation had stood in the background of the Protestant faith, suspected, disliked, ignored or lightly passed over by the reformers (as we have seen in chapter ii.) was brought to the front and acknowledged, even as by the Catholics, as the central dogma of Christianity, and all the creeds and confessions of the period adopted and defended it. But Servetus himself was not in any sense a Unitarian, nor even a Socinian. Though he disliked the traditional terminology of the doctrine, he too was a Trinitarian of a sort, if not an Athanasian. Thus though he has often been regarded as the first Unitarian martyr, the most that can be fairly claimed for him in this connection is that, in a negative way, he started an influential number in his generation on a path that was to issue first in Socinianism, and eventually in Unitarianism. It was chiefly Italian humanists that carried on this line of thought and, instead of ending where he did, wrought out a new doctrine which in the end went far beyond anything that he would have been at all likely to approve. Many of those whom his writings had stirred up to examine this doctrine for themselves presently became active opponents of it in any form; first in northern Italy, then among the Italian dispersion in the Grisons and in their congregation at Geneva, and finally in Poland where Servetus was much read, and in Transylvania where in later chapters we shall find clear traces of his influence.40 From that point on, the movement outgrew him and pursued an independent course.

The other line of Servetus’s contribution to our history is one that he cannot in the least have designed or foreseen: it is in the impulse that his tragic death gave to the growth of toleration in religion. We have seen how this movement rose and gained momentum under Castellio and his associates at Basel. Emancipated souls who knew Servetus’s doctrines, if at all, only as they were stated by his enemies and persecutors, and who felt no sympathy with his heresies, yet totally disapproved of his having been put to such a cruel death. His execution came to stand as a symbol of religious persecution at its worst, and his name as a symbol of martyrdom for freedom of conscience, even with those that knew or cared little for him as an individual. He thus not only gave, as we have seen, an indirect stimulus to the rise of Unitarian doctrines, but had a vastly more important influence in stimulating the rise of religious toleration as a general policy, and the spread of tolerance in religious thought as an attitude of individual minds. 41

One other evidence of Servetus’s lasting impression upon religious history deserves to be remarked. It is in the gradual but complete reversal of the verdict of history upon him. When he died, there was none so poor to do him reverence, and few even to pity. It was generally accepted without question that he had been an abandoned and blasphemous heretic; and this view was for a hundred and seventy-five years repeated by historians as a matter of course. It was not until 1730 that Gautier, who as Secretary of State had been the first to examine the records of the trial, while editing a new edition of Spon’s Histoire de Genève ventured in a foot-note to correct Spon’s unfavorable view of Servetus and to say that his views were not so detestable as they had been represented. 42 Even before this the English litterateur de la Roche had been at Geneva and been permitted to see the records, from which he had made copious extracts, which he published with a running coin rnentary often favorable to Servetus. 43 A copy of the long lost Chiristanismi Restitutio had also come to light in London and increased interest in its author, which was heightened yet more by the elaborate study of his life by Mosheim in 1748, and the records of the Vienne trial published the following year by the Abbe d’Artigny. The more the actual facts about the life and views of Servetus came to be known, the more there were to give sympathy to him and to withdraw it from Calvin. The change in opinion reached its climax of feeling when Voltaire published at Geneva in 1756 his Essai sur les moeurs, in which lie sharply attacked Calvin, and later said of him that he avoit une ame atroce, aussi bien qu’un esprit e’clairé. 44 The essay produced a prodi gious sensation throughout Europe. The city pastors at Geneva sprang to the rescue of Calvin, and appointed one of their number to reply to the calumny; but when he sought access to the records of the trial for materials in defence, his request was refused. 45 The Council took the ground that the less said on the subject the better, and that the whole affair should as far as possible be buried in oblivion. For nearly a century the records were supposed to have been destroyed. By the middle of the nineteenth century the warmth of feeling had much abated on both sides. All the documents in the case were at length made public. Many scholars have studied the question from every angle, though few have succeeded in maintaining a perfectly judicial attitude throughout; but at length a certain state of equilibrium has been reached, and the great merits and the striking defects in the characters of both Servetus and Calvin can be calmly weighed. As far as posterity could succeed in doing so, the professed followers of Calvin made expiation for the tragedy of Champel on its 350th anniversary, by erecting an expiatory monument 46 as nearly as possible on the spot where it occurred. In four or more other cities of Europe admirers of Servetus have erected monuments in his honor. 47

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