Head of the Jesuits doubles down on his “no one had a tape recorder” remarks

We recent read the words of the Superior General of the Jesuits (them, again) which effectively emptied Christianity of its content.  HERE and HERE and HERE

Fr Arturo (“Doctrine is a word that I don’t like very much”) Sosa Abascal is now back in the news.

At the ever iffy Crux we read:

Jesuit chief rejects charges of ‘heresy’ for views on Gospels

Rejecting charges of “relativizing” the words of Jesus, and even doctrinal heresy, the superior general of the worldwide Jesuit order on Sunday stood by his insistence that no one was tape-recording Christ, and therefore statements attributed to him in the New Testament, including on marriage, have to be “interpreted.”
I don’t know why so many people got mad at me for what I said, which is that in the time of Jesus there were no tape-recorders, because it’s the truth,” said Father Arturo Sosa Abascal of Venezuela, who took over last October as the 31st Superior General of the Jesuits.  [Ladies and Gents!  The head of the SJs!]
The reference is to a controversy that broke out in February, when Sosa gave an extended interview to veteran Swiss Vatican journalist Giuseppe Rusconi. In the course of the conversation, Rusconi asked Sosa about remarks by German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, about the words of Jesus on marriage, “let no one separate what God has joined,” adding that “no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel nor a pope, neither a council nor a law of the bishops, has the ability to modify it.”
Müller’s citation of the line was widely taken as expressing doubt about the cautious opening to Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried associated with Pope Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
“You need to start by reflecting on what exactly Jesus said,” Sosa told Rusconi. “At that time, no one had a tape recorder to capture the words. What we know is that the words of Jesus have to be contextualized, they’re expressed in a certain language, in a precise environment, and they’re addressed to someone specific.
That caused backlash in the Italian-language Catholic blogosphere, with various commentators accusing Sosa of relativism with regard to the Bible, of disregarding the words of Jesus as they’ve come down through Catholic tradition, and even of doctrinal heresy.
On Sunday, Sosa spoke to the Italian news service TGCOM24 to reject those complaints.
“The Gospels were written 40 to 50 years after Jesus,” Sosa said. “The earliest tradition is oral, and the first witnesses are the Apostles, the disciples who began to recount what Jesus had said.
“The Christian communities born from this experience wrote the Gospels later to hand down the words of Jesus, but we’re talking about sometime later,” Sosa said.
“If we pick up the Gospels, we’ll see that they’re similar but also different, because the communities they’re addressed to were different,” Sosa said. “These are the texts we know as the word of God. That said, we also have to take account of something else – to understand what’s written, we have to understand the context in which it was written.
“The words of Jesus must be understood in context, as interpreted, in the ample sense, by the Chruch,” Sosa said. “Doctrines, in a sense, are the result of this interpretation by the Church. All these things help us to understand better.”
Sosa argued that the people who became angry with him were wrong to perceive a “relativization” in his remarks. [I seeeeeee!  We can’t know what the Lord said and we can’t rely on Scripture.  We have to “interpret”.  But it’s our fault that we took umbrage with what he said.]
“It’s exactly the opposite,” he told the Italian news program.
“When we interpret, it’s to understand better what Jesus said directly,” Sosa said. “If we understand better what Jesus said, then we’ll also understand better how to act like him.”  [Right.  That’s what he meant.  Got it.]



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. lmgilbert says:

    Poor guy, he must be totally flummoxed. He is only giving back what has been taught in the seminaries by “scripture scholars” for decades. I’d be very surprised if you missed out on this kind of instruction, Fr. Z. Am I wrong? Honestly, I am very sorry for him, for the Jesuits, for the Church.

  2. Huber says:

    In the time of Jesus, there were no Jesuits either…
    So following his own logic, we shouldn’t listen to Jesuits.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    Right. No tape recorder. No camcorder. No iPhone. No wax cylinder. Probably not even some Syro-Chaldaic cub reporter standing there with a notepad.

    So that certainly proves that the Gospels don’t firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures. Right?

    Guess we can only have divinely inspired Scripture in the post-Edison age. So do we wait for a different Messiah?

  4. amenamen says:

    Seasonal allergies?

    Father Sosa’s allergic aversion to the word “doctrine” sounds like an echo of William Roper in “A Man for All Seasons”. Thomas More refused to let his daughter marry Roper, as long as he remains a “heretic”.

    Roper: “Now, that’s a word I don’t like, Sir Thomas!”
    More: “It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing …
    … Two years ago you were a passionate churchman. Now you’re a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning your face is to the front again.”

  5. acardnal says:

    Where’s a Dominican when you need one?

  6. Dan says:

    So let me see if I follow this logic? There was not tape recorder, so the scriptures are unreliable. If they are unreliable then they are not inspired by God, if they are not inspired by God we should all make up our own interpretation of them, thereby making them absolutely unreliable.

    If you wanted to completely destroy Christianity I guess that would make sense.

  7. thomas tucker says:

    “It’s not me, it’s you.”

  8. iPadre says:

    If the Church we’re human institution it would be long gone. Imagine Apple putting someone like that at the helm! I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

  9. Yosef says:

    Reason 1,087,344 for Pascendi Dominici Gregis

  10. Agathon says:

    Jesus didn’t speak in a vacuum! Context, people!

    He specifically taught this very specific teaching at a precise time of day during a concrete month of a particular year; he was standing or sitting or kneeling or jumping in a defined — not infinite, I say! — place that had its own geophysical features and contours; he spoke in just one of many languages, a very particular, very specific one, selected particularly and especially for his listeners; he was speaking to a circumscribed audience with individual eyes, ears, and noses, and their own subjective thoughts, feelings, emotions, and histories; the words were intoned in a particular pitch following the specific physical dimensions of our Lord’s larynx; the atmosphere carrying the sound waves had a precise composition uniquely particular to that time in history and region of the world; his hearers were wearing very definite kinds and styles of clothing we must take into account; the subtext of his speech included specific hand motions, facial expressions, and other nonverbal communicative clues — impossible to have recorded, I remind you, as television cameras had not yet been invented; he addressed a limited set of topics with his narrow audience, and his voice only carried for a definite geographical distance . . .

    Therefore . . . eh, just do whatever the hell you want.

  11. LeeF says:

    The Holy Spirit was the tape recorder. Whispering in the ears of the writers of the Gospels.

  12. kyle says:

    It was my understanding that the Church interpreted this a long time ago.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    I defy anyone, here, to define what the word, context, means. I’ve been studying the word, mathematically, for ten years, and I can say that no one, at this point in history, has a consistent definition. We have an intuitive definition, but nothing computational and predictive. What Fr. Sosa is saying is that we can refine our understanding of what Jesus said. Actually, that is true, but this is a Bayesian process and, as far as we know, this process refines the already existing picture. It does not, usually, lead to a result 100% in the opposite direction unless the initial measurement was such a deviation from the truth as to be truly extraordinary. So, basically, is he, subtly, postulating that either Jesus lied or one of the Gospel writers did? Otherwise, the ever-sharpening picture should stay, pretty much, oriented in the original direction.

    The Chicken

  14. rbbadger says:

    I hold a pontifical degree from the Pontifical Lateran University. The diplomas from the Lateranum are adorned with a portrait of Clement XIV, the same Pope who not only founded the Lateranum and made the young Mozart a papal knight, but who also suppressed the Jesuits. I suppose this is the ultimate Clement XIV swag. Vivat Ganganelli!

    [VIVAT! But… I, too, have a degree from the PUL and Papa Ganganelli isn’t on mine. I’d like to see a photo of yours.]

  15. asburyfox says:

    There was no tape recorder, but there was a firsthand witness. St. Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew. He was there with Jesus in his mimistry. He also wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, making sure he got it verbatim.

  16. Poor Yorek says:

    “I don’t know why so many people got mad at me for what I said, which is that in the time of Jesus there were no tape-recorders, because it’s the truth,” said Father Arturo Sosa Abascal of Venezuela, …

    I feel that Jesus Christ Superstar vibe coming on:

    “Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you’d come today, you would have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

  17. JPA says:

    “You need to start by reflecting on what exactly Jesus said,” Sosa told Rusconi.” (but it’s impossible for us to know EXACTLY what He said because apparently we can’t fully trust the Apostles and thus we can’t fully trust the HOLY SPIRIT because we have to remember that…) “At that time, no one had a tape recorder to capture the words… the words of Jesus have to be contextualized…” (And we also have to remember that the Apostle’s memories were probably not that accurate anyway and they may not have written down what the HOLY SPIRIT wanted them to write down since…) “The Gospels were written 40 to 50 years after Jesus,” Sosa said. “The earliest tradition is oral, and the first witnesses are the Apostles, the disciples who began to recount what Jesus had said. The Christian communities born from this experience wrote the Gospels later to hand down the words of Jesus, but we’re talking about sometime later,” Sosa said.

    So let’s just throw Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in with the Gospel of Thomas and the other false gospels. It’s like he’s reducing the Divinely Inspired Word of God to a game of ‘Telephone’ played not just over the course of a sleep-over but over a span of 40-50 years…Inerrancy of Scripture? Come on now, really? (Insert soft chuckle sound here)…

  18. THREEHEARTS says:

    Mike Hurcum writes
    Matthew was a tax collector. If he did not keep records the Romans would have nonchalantly cut off his head. He must have kept records probably with a stylus on wax tablets. A good reason to see this is possible is the three gospels are quite similar while John’s contains many of the faults of the other apostles. How else would we know Judas was a common thief. We have instances that written records were kept by discoveries daily of letters written even before Christ, among which are the Dead Sea scrolls.Hoe else could Asher ben Asher the masorete say many of the Jewish records were contaminated with dirt and flyspecks when it came to cantation marks and accents for vowels. Or How could we read in the Letter to Trypho the Jew, (Justin Martyr I think) write not say; say you have changed your records to say Christ was not the messiah. Look back even further God wrote on stones, what did Moses write on? How comes the Old Testament talks of reading their laws and commentaries before the Jewish nation, if their was no way for them to be recorded on tape recorders. Back to the dead sea scrolls were tape recorders in them. The Man is a Donkey and full of the liquid that comes from the nether end of a bull.

  19. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The “Historical Jesus” is an academic construct and not to be confused a rule of Faith. The inspired Scriptures, as read by the Church, are the rule of Faith. This fellow needs a remedial course on elementary theological method.

  20. G-Veg says:

    Cardinal Burke can’talk get an audience but Cardinal Kasper is breathless in anticipation of married priests. Trump won’the be visiting the Pope and HIS Holiness sternly warns that a firm line on immigration is unchristian. We are supposed to teach our kids that Jesus is too nice to punish with hell and yet demand that they go to Confession. Here we see a Church leader saying “the Bible does not mean what it says” and yet the hierarchy wonders why Catholics seem to be unaware that the Eucharist is not just a symbol.

    I really don’t know how we got here. I mean, I can trace it in our decaying and dying culture but how did SO many defective men get to positions of authority in the Church!?

    Dear Lord!

  21. Andrew says:

    What is the interpretation of “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away”?

  22. Ages says:

    “The Gospels were written 40 to 50 years after Jesus.”

    How postmodern.

    Many ancient manuscripts have colophons which state that Matthew was published 8 years after the Ascension, Mark 10 years after the Ascension, Luke 15 years, and John 32 years.

  23. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Although it’s true that at the time that Jesus walked with us upon the Earth, no tape recorders were available, it is nevertheless true that were other on-the-spot methods of recording and preserving speech, deeds, and events. Sewn-together strips of linen (tabulae) could be spread out on a wooden lap desk and written upon with (very portable) pen and ink. And the Romans used a form of Latin shorthand (notae Tironianae) to record words. They used this method to record all sorts of financial transactions, court proceedings, and announcements of edicts and proclamations (these latter were then transcribed onto bronze tablets.)

    I don’t know about the Roman methods, but the most proficient users of the Gregg shorthand method (used until the middle of the last century) have been recorded at 225 words per minute.

    As a tax-collector, Matthew would have been familiar with Roman note-taking methods, and it’s plausible that he had access to persons proficient in it, or was proficient in it himself. (It’s interesting when we remind ourselves that handwritten notes would have been the only method of recording words in courts, parliaments, the offices of prime ministers and heads of state, of treasuries, banks, universities, police stations, law offices — up until the middle of the 19th century. Just notes was all there was. The same method that was used during the time the Master walked upon the Earth.)

  24. robtbrown says:

    The good Jesuit is quite right about the importance of context. He is, however, quite wrong about what that context is. Scriptural context means that any text of Scripture must be compared with other texts of Scripture. Thus, the Kenotic Christology found in the Pauline Hymn (cf Luther) cannot be universalized because it must be compared to the Christology of the Gospel of St John.

    Unfortunately, what Fr Sosa is doing is simply trotting out the old Karl Rahner method of explaining away Truth: All doctrine is historically conditioned. The consequence of Rahner’s sophistry is that Church teaching (here the teachings of Christ on marriage) is only relative to the times in which it was taught.

    Fr Sosa is giving a good example of why the Jesuits are dying. He is a political scientist who knows as much about theology as a pig does about Sunday.

  25. PatS says:

    Isn’t our Bible divinely inspired, or is it now standard practice in Jesuit community to treat our Bible Authors as any normal human witness to any worldly event; with critical skepticism?

  26. iamlucky13 says:

    I actually did a facepalm as a I read the article. When I originally read his tape recorder statement, I don’t think I did more than roll my eyes, but when he doubled down instead of trying to clarify some other intended meaning of his statement, I just smacked myself in shock.

    Maybe he was listening to a Bible on tape that has a few “enhancements” for better accuracy. I’m thinking of 2nd Timothy 3 in particular:

    “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, excepts those portions of scripture and the words of the Apostles which are not recorded with technologies that will not exist for centuries after I am no longer with you, which should be considered questionable, at best.

  27. Grumpy Beggar says:

    “At that time, no one had a tape recorder to capture the words.”

    Luke 2:19 DRV

    But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.

    . . . A perfect, sinless, flawless tape recorder : Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, well beloved spouse of the Holy Spirit.
    I’m paraphrasing here, but I believe it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who, when asked why the Church appeared to be in such confusion today replied,

    “We are all the time engaged in concepts and discussions . The problem with concepts is that they have no need of a Mother.”

  28. MikeToo says:

    I get to interpret doctrine?

    You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this.

    In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!

    [we could only hope – rejecting this offer!] I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West . . .


  29. JabbaPapa says:

    “The Gospels were written 40 to 50 years after Jesus,” Sosa said. “The earliest tradition is oral, and the first witnesses are the Apostles, the disciples who began to recount what Jesus had said.
    “The Christian communities born from this experience wrote the Gospels later to hand down the words of Jesus, but we’re talking about sometime later,” Sosa said.

    This is nonsense at so many levels …

    The Synoptic Gospels were likely written 10 to 20 years after Christ’s Ministry, with only the Gospel of John being likely to have been written as late as the 60s.

    They are very likely indeed to have been written by eye witnesses.

    Oral traditions, contrary to the bad theories of anti-clerical 19th century revisionists and 1970s Marxist “critique”, have anyway been found to be astonishingly effective and faithful to original words — particularly over such an extremely short time frame, where the texts were written during the lives of those who knew Jesus personally.

    No, the Gospels were not “written by Christian communities” (this is more Marxist literary theory BTW, of the Bakhtin ilk) — they were written by four individual authors named Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John.

  30. CharlesG says:

    Matthew as a tax collector would have known how to read and write and very well may have taken notes while Jesus was alive. Mark based his Gospel on the speeches given by St. Peter about Jesus, as attested in Eusebius, which attestation Eusebius based on earlier testimony. John was a disciple and thus an eyewitness.

  31. John Grammaticus says:

    It sounds like the Good Fr has been listening to Professor Oskar Fullerman of Bowlbages University

  32. JonPatrick says:

    Anytime we are depending on just the physical technology, be it stylus on wax, papyrus, printing press, photograph, or magnetic tape, we know that such records can be altered. We have the case a few years ago where one of the networks edited a 911 tape in order to advance their position that the caller was a racist. Technology alone does not guarantee a reliable and trustworthy communication. What does guarantee it is the presence of the Holy Spirit and the infallibility of the Magisterium of the Church which passes these truths down to us.

  33. JonathanTX says:


    The Catholic Church: There is one Truth, and we can know it through Faith and Reason.

    Modernism: There are many truths, depending on when you live.

    Fr Arturo Sosa Abascal: There is one Truth, but no one had a tape recorder, so we can’t really know what it is.

  34. The poverty of Father Arturo’s argument is startling.

    First, highlighting the lack of modern recording equipment is sophistry. That is to say, either he knows its a disingenuous argument, or he isn’t very bright. I suppose the latter is the more charitable interpretation, so I’ll go with that. In fact, they did, indeed, have “recording equipment”: it’s called human memory. For that matter, they had things to write on, and things to write with. When I took Scripture courses in the seminary, we were told that the Gospels may well have been based on earlier written sources. How early? No one really knows. Father Arturo may believe that electronic means of recording statements and events are more reliable, but if so, I suggest he get out more.

    Second, let’s indeed put Jesus’ words — as reported in Scripture — in context. Had Jesus allowed for any sort of way out of a marriage, any at all, such a position would not have been terribly noteworthy. The debate at the time among Jewish leaders was between easy divorce or not-so-easy divorce. Had Jesus argued for not-easy-at-all-but possible divorce, the Gospel accounts would make no sense.

    What was memorable, however, was what the Gospels tell us Jesus said: no divorce at all. The Gospels make very clear how shocking his answer was. What about what Moses said, came the response; and when Jesus stood his ground, the apostles said, with amazement: if that’s how it is, better not to marry! Again, none of this would make any sense if Jesus was staking out a position toward the less-but-some-divorce position.

    Third point. From a merely human point of view, of course it’s possible that the Gospels got it wrong. If that be the case, however, we might ask why they got it wrong in the direction they did, and in the way they did? Why present the apostles as resistant to Jesus’ utter rejection of divorce? If the Gospels are in any way inaccurate, they are either wrong through honest mistake, or else wrong because someone intentionally wanted to change the message. The reaction of the apostles doesn’t fit in either scenario. And, if you think Jesus wasn’t really all that hardline against divorce, his doubling down doesn’t fit, either.

    Fourth point. Let’s not fall into a kind of sola scriptura error (sola scriptura being a Protestant notion that “scripture alone” is our authoritative source and arbiter of the truth). Catholics — and I here include Jesuits — are not adherents to sola scriptura. This is true both as a matter of doctrine (whoops!) and historical fact. Since Father Arturo is allergic to doctrine, let’s just focus on historical fact. We know that the message of Jesus was conveyed and absorbed in other ways before it was preserved in the texts of the New Testament. We know that there were and remain many witnesses to what he said and taught, and to what the early Church heard and believed, beyond that of the New Testament. So when Father Arturo focuses in on certain passages in the Gospels, as if that’s all there is, there are many today who think this is decisive, but he ought to know better. In any case, the rest of the Church certainly does know better. We know from many other sources that the early Church understood Jesus’ teaching to be exactly what the Church currently presents it to be.

    To quote something one of the Scripture instructors at the seminary taught us: we don’t believe it because it’s in the Bible; it’s in the Bible because we believe it. That is to say, the texts that became part of the Bible, became part of the Bible precisely because they reflected what God’s People had already believed. A book didn’t fall out of heaven, which people picked up and then started to form beliefs from it.

  35. robtbrown says:

    Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The “Historical Jesus” is an academic construct and not to be confused a rule of Faith. The inspired Scriptures, as read by the Church, are the rule of Faith. This fellow needs a remedial course on elementary theological method.

    They are not mutally exclusive. The question is the validity of the criteria used to deny that certain texts are historical. Early Historical Critical work was influenced by Hegel (the simpler text is earlier) and Protestant allergy to anything that might be labeled as related to Greek philosophy. To certain extent those are now ignored.

    An important text is that from Mt 20:28 (Mk 10:45)–the Son of Man came to serve . . . and to give His life as a ransom for many. Obviously, it is an expression of His Messianic consciousness, thus the Christ of Faith. There is no reason, however, to eliminate it as not referring to the Historical Jesus–other than baseless ideology.

  36. Chiara says:

    I know I am not as educated as Fr. Abascal, Fr. Zuhlsdorf, and probably all of the good readers here. But really, all I need to know is that sacred Scripture is divinely inspired. To me, that means God Himself has put His seal of approval on it. It is His Word, and I am His most unworthy servant.

    Even if there were a tape recording of what Jesus said, I am sure there would still be a contingent of unbelievers claiming that it was mechanically altered.

    It is a matter of Faith – either you believe, or you don’t.

    Best Franciscan blessings this Holy Week to all here – Susan, ofs

  37. Maynardus says:

    AAGGHH! Someone throw a net over him and haul him off to a comfortable resting spot. Honestly, I feel like I am re-living the early 1970’s all over again, and this whole bit of lunacy is one part of my youth I definitely do not wish to revisit! Even now, after 25y of reversion and 20+ years as a “traddie” my faith still bears the scars of that period, and I can see so many poorly-catechized souls being susceptible to this kind of b.s. (in this context “b.s.” is an understatement). Our capacity for rationalizing-away what our intellect and our faith tell us, in favor of our passions and our emotions, is immense; and all of these ill-considered opinions emanating from trendy churchman (including those in even more exalted positions than the “Black Pope”) simply enable the rationalizations!

  38. LarryW2LJ says:

    The height of pride and arrogance! There were no tape recorders, so the authors of the Gospels – who were actually THERE, by the way ……. were just too stupid to get it right? If I were a Jesuit, I would be so embarrassed that I’d hate to show my head, anywhere.

  39. JPA says:

    I wonder if Pope Francis was really listening last Friday, April 7th as Father Raniero Cantalamessa preached his final sermon of Lent 2017 to the Papal Household when he said, referring to one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation, that, “Human revolutions do not break out, however, because of ideas or abstract theories but because of concrete historical situations, and unfortunately for a long time the praxis of the Church was not truly reflecting its official doctrine.”

  40. Sonshine135 says:

    More 1984 Doublespeak. I miss the sane times when words actually could be looked up in a dictionary and you knew what they meant- especially when the context is plainly laid out for all to see.

  41. Joseph-Mary says:

    On April 12, Pope Francis appointed James Martin, S.J., America’s editor at large, as a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications….

    For Jesuits and/or others sympathetic to the homosexual lifestyle, promotions seem to be available.

    It is hard to believe the men this pontiff is putting in high places, for example on the Council for Life which is essentially now gone. When will our prelates again stand up for the age-old truths of our blessed Catholic Faith?

  42. Daniel W says:

    What do you get when you mix a black pope with a white pope: A grey pope (nothing is ever really black or white).

    So we actually have three popes at the moment; black, white and grey: Sosa Abascal, Benedict XVI and Francis!

  43. Joe in Canada says:

    “The historical-critical method is the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts. Holy Scripture, inasmuch as it is the “word of God in human language,” has been composed by human authors in all its various parts and in all the sources that lie behind them. Because of this, its proper understanding not only admits the use of this method but actually requires it.”

  44. Luvadoxi says:

    Perhaps the good Father needs to be “reaccommodated.”

  45. Luvadoxi says:

    Ah…then again, it’s a good thing the Lord hasn’t “reaccommodated” me! (Thank you, though, United Airlines, for this awesome new word.)

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