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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    CHAPTER 20.


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    CALVIN AT RATISBON (1541.)

    CALVIN had at this time anxieties of another kind, which may well have contributed to make the republic of Geneva preferable to the Germanic empire as a residence. When the conference was broken off at Worms in 1541, he had been elected deputy to the assembly of Ratisbon. It was with reluctance that he went there, either because he felt that he was no diplomatist, and did not consider himself at all fit for business of that kind, or because he anticipated that his stay at Ratisbon would occasion him much annoyance. He was doubtless hoping always for the final victory of Jesus Christ, the theme of his song of triumph; but the conferences which he had already attended, the prolixities, the questions of mere form which arose, the direction which the Reformation seemed to be taking, all this disquieted and offended him. He had not gone to these Germanic assemblies with any large expectations or ready-made plans. He had no doubt that the Protestant divines would seek to extend the kingdom of Christ, but he saw more clearly than they did the obstacles which they would encounter. Many things afflicted and irritated him; and, perhaps, he could not at all times control his temper. The Catholics, it is true, made some concessions on important points; but even this failed to tranquilize Calvin, nay, it excited his suspicions, as it did those of Luther and the Elector of Saxony. Dr. Eck, who was one of the commissioners, was not a man to inspire much confidence in Calvin. The latter would sometimes speak rather hard words about him. This theologian had had an apoplectic fit, the consequence it was rumored, of his intemperance, but he was gradually recovering. ‘The world,’ wrote Calvin to Farel, ‘does not yet deserve to be delivered from this brute.’ He acknowledged the pacific sentiments of Cardinal Contarini, the papal legate, who at same time that he was a thorough-going Catholic so far as the Church was concerned, leaned towards reconciliation with the Protestants with respect to matters of faith. But Calvin, who assuredly saw more clearly than others, did not doubt that Roman dignitary really wished to bring back Protestants into the pale of the Church. The only difference which he perceived between him and the nuncio Morone was this,—Contarini wishes to subdue us, but without shedding our blood; he tries to gain his end by all means except by fighting, while Morone is altogether sanguinary, and has always war on his lips. Calvin instituted a contrast between Morone and Contarini. The former is a man of blood, the latter a man of peace. Is it just to say that he hated Contarini? We think not.

    He was much displeased with most of the princes. If any occasion of pleasure presented itself, they would always say, ‘Business to-morrow.’

    If Calvin anywhere went into the Lutheran churches, he was saddened by the sight of images and crosses, and by certain parts of the service. The relations of the theologians with princes and with courts appeared to him to be bonds of servility and worldliness.

    He could not approve even the methods of procedure adopted by his best friends, Melanchthon and Bucer. To Farel he wrote thus: ‘They have drawn up ambiguous and colored formulae on transubstantiation, to see if they could not satisfy their opponents without making any real concession to them. I do not like this. I can, nevertheless, assure you and all good men, that they are acting with the best intentions, and are aiming only at the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. They fancy that antagonists will presently have their eyes opened subject of doctrine, and that it is therefore best to leave this point undecided. But they are too accommodating to the temper of the times.’

    On February 23 the emperor had arrived at Ratisbon. Electors, princes, archbishops, bishops, and lords of all degrees had gathered around the chief of the empire, and all contributed by their presence to give special importance to the assembly. They wished by subtle negotiations to make an end the Reformation. Never had there been so great danger for the Protestant opposition of being weakened and dissolved into the Romish hierarchical system. The pope had sent to Germany the amiable and pious Contarini as a capital bait for the Protestants; and these, when once caught, he would have thrown into his own fish-pond, and carefully secured them there. Melanchthon himself had desired that Calvin should attend the assembly, because he felt sure that the young doctor would do there what he himself would not have resolution enough to do. Calvin’s part at Ratisbon was not only to see what others did not see, but also to cry out to his too confiding friends—Beware! The time which he spent at this Germanic diet forms one of the most important epochs of his life; one in which he was called to act on the loftiest stage. The firmness with which he unveiled the designs of the papacy and strengthened the feeble Protestants had much to do with the breaking off of the insidious negotiations which Contarini himself at last felt bound to abandon. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was at this time menaced in Germany. It was necessary to save it. The sayings of Calvin hit hard.

    Some have said they were exaggerated; and yet ecclesiastical occurrences of succeeding years justified them. Learned and pious Catholics have uttered against Rome many of the same reproaches as the Reformer did. If Calvin did not recognize in the Roman Catholic Church some worthy and truly pious men, he was mistaken. But there no evidence of such a mistake on his part. When he replies to a discourse of a nephew and legate of the pope—of the pope himself—it is only the Romish hierarchy that he attacks; and the more he finds the Germans disposed to give way, the more he feels it be his duty to speak clearly, decisively, and courageously. ‘If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to the battle?’

    Pope Paul III. had sent to the emperor his nephew Cardinal Farnese, ‘who was only just past boyhood.’ This young prelate had faithfully addressed to Charles V. the discourse which he had from his uncle; and this was a bill of indictment against the Protestants. To this manifesto of the papacy Calvin felt it to be his duty to reply, and thus to re-establish the truth which was trampled under foot. Never, perhaps, had the Reformation and the Papacy come into more direct collision, and this in the persons of their most considerable combatants, and as it were, in the presence of the emperor and the diet. The epoch at which this dialogue appeared, the distinguished character of the interlocutors, the importance of the subjects discussed, the necessity that a history of the Reformation should not be limited to external movements but should penetrate to principles, and the circumstance that this work of Calvin’s has remained so long unknown— all these considerations compel us to fix our attention upon it. We cannot forget what Luther called ‘the kernel of the nut, flour of the wheat, and the marrow of the bones.’ The Reformation is above all an idea: it has a soul, a life. It is the depth of this soul that Calvin here lays open. Let the pope and the reformer speak. The latter speaks with all the energy imparted to him by his character, his youth, and his indignation.

    Pope Paul III. addresses the mighty Emperor of Germany, and we may properly say that Calvin, although indirectly, does the same. This strange colloquy is well worth the trouble of listening to it. The Pope. ‘We are desirous of the peace and the unity of Germany; but of a peace and a unity which do not constitute a perpetual war against God.’ Calvin. ‘ That is to say, against the earthly god, the Roman god.

    For if he (the pope) wished for peace with the true God, he would live in a different manner; he would teach otherwise and reign otherwise than he does. For his whole existence, his institutions, and his decrees make war on God.’ The Pope. ‘The Protestants are like slippery snakes; they aim at no certain object, and thus show plainly enough that they are altogether enemies of concord, and want, not the suppression of vice but the overthrow of the apostolic see! We ought not to have any further negotiations with them.’ Calvin. ‘Certainly, there is a snake in the grass here. The pope, who holds in abomination all discussion, cannot hear it spoken of without immediately crying ‘Fire!’ in order to prevent it. Only let anyone call to mind all the little assemblies held by the pontiffs these twenty years and more, for the purpose of smothering the Gospel, and then he will see clearly what kind of a reformation they would be willing to accept. All men of sound mind see clearly the question is not only of maintaining the status of the pope as a sovereign and limited episcopacy, but rather of completely setting aside the episcopal office and of establishing in its stead and under its name an anti-christian tyranny. And not only so, but the adherents of the papacy put men out of their minds by wicked and impious lies, and corrupt the world by numberless examples of debauchery. Not contented with these misdeeds, they exterminate those who strive to restore to the Church a purer doctrine and a more lawful order, or who merely venture to ask for these things.’ The Pope. ‘It is impossible to tell in what way to proceed in order to come to any agreement with such people as these, for they are not in agreement even with one another. The Lutherans want one thing, the Zwinglians want another, to say nothing other sects.’ Calvin. ‘This is a malicious fiction. Let the institutions of Jesus Christ and the worship of the church be re-established; let everything be cast away that is opposed to these, and which can proceed only from Antichrists, and concord will thus be immediately restored among all who are of Christ, whether they be called by their enemies Lutherans or Zwinglians. If there be any who demand other things than those which I have just spoken of, the Protestants do not count them of their number.’ f60 The Pope. ‘Even if it were possible to bring about a union, if the Protestants could be brought to obey the holy see, this could not be effected without making many concessions to them.’ Calvin. ‘It is needful only to concede what the Lord concedes and commands. Why does man refuse this?’ The Pope. ‘If these things were allowed, the consequence would be a breach in the unity of the Church; for such changes would never be accepted in France, nor in Spain, nor in Italy, nor in the other provinces of Christendom.’ Calvin. ‘Let the free and sincere preaching of the Gospel be everywhere restored, and there will be no more diversity among the faithful in Christ Jesus; for we ask only for the truth which the Lord has proclaimed for the salvation of his people. With respect to diversities of practice the churches must be left at liberty. f61 The unity of the Church does not consist in sameness of rites but in sameness of faith. In the ages of the apostles and of the martyrs a sincere unity was maintained among the Christians, notwithstanding differences of ritual observances. But since the several churches of different countries received under the Roman pontiff the same rites, the sole foundations of salvation have been miserably shifted. The just lives by faith, not by ceremonies. No church may insist on anything which is not of faith as indispensable to Christian communion. There is therefore nothing on the part of the Protestants which makes it difficult, much less impossible, to a pious and solid agreement amongst all churches.’ f62 The Pope . ‘And if the general council should not approve these changes, and should possibly establish the contrary, what hope would there be of then bringing back unity to Germany, which would have had time to grow strong in its new opinions?’ Calvin. ‘What! a council would not only not approve what has been established by the word of Christ himself, but would publicly abrogate it! Good God! what a monster of a council! Such are the fine hopes held out to us by the Roman see. Why should we still wait for this assembly, since if it were held, we should have to repudiate it?’ The Pope. ‘There would be danger, moreover, lest the Protestants, while making some concessions, should attain in return their chief desire, the separation of Catholics from the apostolic see!’ Calvin. ‘From the Roman see, if you please, but not from the apostolic see. The Catholic Protestants f62a have no other wish but to get the see of Satan overthrown, and the true see of Christ set up in its place—that see on which rest the apostles and not the Antichrists. Now the point supremely insisted on by the papists is their will to reign in the Church, to be masters of everything in it, and to leave nothing to Jesus Christ.’ The Pope. ‘ We can easily conceive what sort of peace we may have with those Protestants who, sometimes by letters, sometimes by threatening speeches, and sometimes by artful practices, daily lead astray men of all ranks.’ Calvin. ‘These illicit methods are as unusual among us as they are familiar to the Roman bishops. It is not merely a few individuals in Germany that the Protestants wish to enlighten, but the whole world, if the Lord permit, in order that all may enjoy together the true and sole religion of Jesus Christ.’ f63 The Pope. ‘Since piety, alas, has grown cold, men are naturally prompted to pass over from a faith too severe to one more lax, from a more continent religion to one more voluptuous, and from submission to independence.’ Calvin. ‘Who could endure such a piece of impudence? Whence, then, has come the ruin of religion which all pious men mourn?

    Whence comes the contempt, of God and of sacred things? Whence but from the apathy, the ignorance, and the malice with which Rome has buried Christ’s truth, or rather has banished it from the world! Everyone knows what these pontiffs have been for four or five hundred years past. It is easy, says the pope, to get men to pass from a continent life to a voluptuous one. Who can hear such things without laughing? Everyone knows in what sort of continence and austerity the Roman court lives, and all who are trained in it. Men who have corrupted the whole by their waywardness, and defiled the earth with every kind of debauchery, have the impudence to reproach others with effeminacy and selfindulgence.

    Is it not known that the dissoluteness of Rome has been shameless, that luxury, incontinence, and a fabulous licentiousness which has burst all bonds, prevail in the midst of its creatures? And such men dare to exhibit themselves as guardians of obedience, of continence, and of severity!’ f64 The Pope. ‘Not only do they lead men astray, but they pillage the churches, drive away the bishops, profane religion, and all this with impunity.’ Calvin. ‘Those do not lead men astray who bring them back from deadly errors to Jesus Christ. Those do not pillage churches who snatch them from the hands of plunderers in order to put true pastors in them. Those do not drive away bishops who establish the religion of the Gospel. Those are not guilty of profanation whose work is to restore. What is the doctrine of these men, but that we should trust the Lord Jesus Christ and live for him: while those of the pope’s party would have us trust in the saints, their bones and their images, in ceremonies in human works? Where is the parish, where is the abbey, the bishopric, or the rich benefice, which is not held by men whose only accomplishments are hunting, seduction, and other follies and iniquities? Men who, when they become bishops, to be consistent with their profession as now understood, show themselves to be hunters, epicures, haunters of wine-shops, libertines, soldiers, and gladiators? This, verily, is sacrilege and pillage of churches! Has it been possible for Protestants to drive away a bishop, seeing it is so rare a thing to find a man that can fairly pass for one?’ The Pope. ‘It is not the business of particular assemblies but of a general council to deal with religion; and if, without consulting France, Spain, Italy, and the other nations, any new doctrines should be established in Germany, unity no longer existing, we should have in the body of Christ a great monster.’ f65 Calvin. ‘What! if doctrine and preaching be regulated according to the apostolic institution so that the people may be edified, it is a monster! But if in the whole of Christendom there be nothing but ceremonies without intelligence, prostituted to purposes of impious gain; if there be no reading of Scripture, no exhortations from which the people can gather any fruit; if foolish monks or extravagant theological quibblers (theologastres ) do nothing but plunge men in darkness—this is no monster! ‘If Christians are taught to offer to God legitimate worship, to cast off all confidence in their own virtues, and to seek in Christ alone full salvation and all hope of blessings to come, this is a monster!

    But worship if the of God be turned upside down by innumerable superstitions; if men be taught to place their confidence in the vainest of all vanities, to call upon dead men instead of upon God; if new sacrifices without end are invented, new expiation’s and new mediators; if Jesus Christ be hidden and almost buried under a mass of impious imaginations; this is no monster, and we may walk in this way without fear! ‘If the sacraments are brought back to their primitive purpose, which is that faithful souls may enter more completely into communion with Jesus Christ and devote themselves to a holy life,—this is a monster! But if petty priests abuse these mysteries; if they substitute for the holy supper a profane ceremony, which annuls the benefit of Christ’s death, and buries the sacred feast under a confused medley of rites, some of them without meaning, others puerile and ridiculous, there is nothing monstrous in all this! ‘If ministers are given to the churches who nourish the people with sound doctrine, who walk before them as examples, who watch diligently over the safety of the Church, remembering that they are fathers and shepherds and must not cherish any other ambition than that of bringing the people into obedience to one master alone, that is Christ; if they govern their families with prudence, bring up their children in the fear of God, and honor the married state by virtuous and chaste living,—then this is not only a monster, it is more monstrous than a monster! But if the pope, that Romish idol, as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God; if he claim to hold the whole world in the most miserable bondage; if his satellites have no care to publish the Word of God, but persecute it as much as they can with fire and sword; if, while they pour contempt on marriage, they not only seek to invade nuptial bed, but also defile the land with their obscenities; this is perfectly endurable and has nothing monstrous in it! ‘If one venture to open one’s mouth in favor of a proper application of the wealth of the Church; if one attempt to repress the pillage of these thieves and to get that property expended for the uses to which it was destined; this is a frightful monster. But of these vast resources of the Church let there be no portion for the maintenance of faithful ministers, nothing for the schools, nothing for the poor, to whom they ought to belong; let insatiable gulfs absorb and waste them in luxury, licentiousness, play, poisonings and murders; all this is very far from being a monster! What shall I say? At this day there is nothing monstrous in a world in which everything is notoriously out of order, crazy, profligate, perverted, deformed, twisted, confused, in ruins, dissipated and mutilated.

    Nothing monstrous, except the moving of a little finger to apply a remedy to such vast evils. Monsters! that must be transported to the end of the earth!’ The Pope. ‘It is necessary to oppose all these particular assemblies in which matters in controversy are discussed, and to convoke a council. Then the Protestants will either submit to its decrees or will persist in their own views. In the latter case, the Emperor and the King of France, between whom negotiations are now going on, will take advantage of their alliance to correct and to recall them to better thoughts.’ Calvin. ‘So then, in case the Protestants are not willing to place themselves and everything belonging to them in the hands of the Roman pontiff, they are to be subdued by arms; so long as a single man remains who shall dare to open his lips against the abominable supremacy of the Roman see, there shall be no end and no limit to the shedding of blood. Such is the shepherd’s crook of which he will make use to drive the sheep into the fold. But the prophet says, Take counsel together and it shall come to nought; associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces. There are men, grievous to tell! traitors, enemies of their country, who are everywhere scattering the seeds of intestine war; who, as soon as they think that men’s minds are quite prepared, brandish their torches and kindle a fire; who, the moment they see a spark, make haste to throw dry wood on it and raise a flame with their poisonous breath, until at last the whole of Germany shall be nothing but one vast conflagration.’ f67 If Calvin is rather sharp in his reply, the pope, it must be owned, had not infused into his attack much mildness or fairness. ‘It is not easy to decide, to speak in a Christian manner ,’ he had said, ‘which are the worst enemies of Jesus Christ, the Protestants or the Turks. For the latter kill only the body, but the former destroy the soul.’ This saying shocked even the judicious and impartial Sleidan. ‘Have not the Turks,’ said he, ‘spread their religion everywhere by arms? And who among us have shown more zeal to exalt the grace and the virtue of Jesus Christ than the Protestants, who have in this respect surpassed the Catholics themselves?’ The pope even did not shrink from having recourse to the same methods as the Turks. He had sent to the emperor his own nephew to scheme the destruction of the Reformation and to extinguish it, if need be, in the blood of the Evangelicals; while no one more earnestly than Calvin stigmatized beforehand that fratricidal war, to which the desire to crush the reformation afterwards gave rise. The blow having been violent, the returnblow was energetic. Calvin was wrong, however, in one respect,—in that he did not fully and publicly acknowledge that there were honorable exceptions to the licentiousness of priests and to the other evils of the papacy. But he has elsewhere exhibited this fairness; for he distinguishes among the Catholics two classes,—those in whom malice predominates, and those who are deluded by a false appearance of truth. f68 This work bears the date of March 1541. Calvin arrived at Ratisbon at the beginning of March, a remained there about four months. The emperor was there longer still. It may be supposed that a work so remarkable, written as a reply to the discourse addressed by the pope to Charles V., was read at the time by the emperor’s ministers, perhaps even by the emperor himself. Calvin did not put his name to it, probably in order that attention might be paid to the considerations which are put forward in it, without regard to their authorship; perhaps also in order not to implicate the town of Strasburg which showed him such noble hospitality and of which he was the deputy. But his name is read, so to speak, in every line of this eloquent memoir. Sleidan positively names Calvin as its author. f69 Calvin’s part at Ratisbon it is not difficult to recognize. It was such as Luther’s would have been, had he been present. He firmly believed that the Protestants, and even his dear Melanchthon, under the influence of their desire to reconcile the two parties, were inclined to make too many concessions. This tendency must be resisted. Seeing how the waters were rushing along and threatening to carry everything before them, he felt it his duty to stand in the way like a rock to arrest the disaster. ‘Believe me,’ he wrote from Ratisbon to Farel May 11, ‘in actions of this kind brave souls are wanted who may strengthen others. Pray then all of you with earnestness to the Lord that he may fortify us with his spirit of boldness.’

    The next day he wrote to him, ‘So far as I can understand, if we are willing to be satisfied with a half-Christ, we shall easily be able to come to an agreement.’ Did Calvin, allured by the position which he felt bound to take, go too far? The footing was slippery. He did perhaps go too far in words, but not in deeds.

    The legate Contarini had declared to the emperor that, as the Protestants deviate in various articles from the common consent of the Catholic Church, it would be better, all things considered, to refer the whole matter to the pope and to the next council. ‘What can be hoped for from such a gathering?’ said Calvin. ‘There will not be one in a hundred willing and able to understand what is for the glory of God and for the good of the Church.

    It is notorious what sort of theology is held at Rome, principally in the consistory. Its first principle is that there is no God; its second, that Christianity is nothing but foolishness.’ Calvin does not mean that this is the doctrine which Rome professes, but only that the papacy behaves as if it were so. Having neither the true God nor true Christianity, it is in the Reformer’s sight without God and without faith. He continues—‘ Suppose, then, that we have a council, the pope will be its president, the bishops and prelates will be judges in it ... They will come to it in the most deliberate manner to gainsay and to resist everything which would infringe on their avarice and ambition, and on that tyrannical supremacy in the exercise of which they have no greater enemy than Jesus Christ. When the council is held, it will contribute rather to destroy than to put things again into a right state.’

    Contarini had recommended to the bishops various reforms; such as to be watchful over their dioceses lest the religion of the Protestants should propagate itself in them; and to establish schools in order that people might not send their children to those of the Evangelicals. ‘He had indeed many other evils to deal with,’ said Calvin, ‘if he had a wish to give good medicine. The world is full of the worship of idols, in the shape of relics and images, to such an extent that there could hardly be more of it among the pagans. Everyone makes gods for himself after his fancy (a sa poste ), out of saints, male and female. The virtue of Christ is good as buried, and his honor virtually annihilated. The light of truth is almost extinct; hardly any sparks of it remain.’ f73 However decided Calvin was with respect to the errors of Rome, he was, nevertheless, far from being a narrow-minded and passionate man; and he did not hesitate to acknowledge whatever good there was in his opponents. We have already seen that he looked upon the archbishops of Cologne, of Mentz, and of Treves as friends of liberty, of peace, and even of a reform. At Ratisbon he also bore favorable testimony to Charles V. ‘It is no fault of the emperor,’ said he, ‘that some good beginning of agreement was not arrived at, without waiting for the pope, or the cardinals, or any of their following.’ His estimate of the electors was still more favorable. ‘The electors,’ says he, ‘at least most of them, were of opinion that in order to bring about a union of the churches, the articles which had been passed should be received; and this would have been a very good beginning of provision for the Church. The world would have learnt that it ought not to trust in its strength and its free-will; and that it is through the free grace of our Lord that we are enabled to act well. The righteousness which we receive as a free gift from Christ would have been set forth, in order to overthrow our pernicious confidence in our own works. It would have been better known that the Church cannot be separated from the word of God. The shameful and dishonest traffic in masses would have been suppressed; the tyranny of the ministers of the Church would have been restrained, and superstitions would have been corrected.’ These were, in fact, the great points conceded by the legate of Rome, Contarini; and Calvin, undoubtedly, was no stranger to that conqueSt. He complained most of all of the princes of the second order, ‘who had for their captains,’ he adds, ‘two dukes of Bavaria, who were reported to be pensioners of the pope to maintain the relics of holy Mother Church in Germany, and thus to bring about the ruin of the country. For to leave things as they are, what is it but to abandon Germany as in desperate case? They want the pope to be the physician, to put things in order; and thus they thrust the lamb into the wolf’s jaws that he may take care of it.’

    Everything was, in fact, referred to a general council. ‘It seems like a dream,’ says Calvin, ‘that the emperor and so many princes, ambassadors, and counselors should have spent five whole months in consulting, considering, parleying, giving opinions, debating, and resolving to do at last just nothing at all.’

    Calvin, however, did not lose courage. ‘At present,’ he adds, ‘seeing that this diet of Ratisbon has all ended in smoke, many persons are disconcerted, fret themselves and despair of the Gospel ever being received by public authority. But more good has resulted from this assembly than appears. The servants of God have borne faithful testimony to the truth, and there are always a few who are open to conviction. It is no slight matter that all the princes, nay, even some of the bishops, are convinced in their hearts that the doctrine preached under the Pope must be amended. ‘But our chief consolation is that this is the cause of God and that he will take it in hand to bring it to a happy issue. Even though all the princes of the earth were to unite for the maintenance of our Gospel, still we must not make that the foundation of our hope. So, likewise, whatever resistance we see to-day offered by almost all the world to the progress of the truth, we must not doubt that our Lord will come at last to break through all the undertakings of men and make a passage for his word. Let us hope boldly, then, more than we can understand; he will still surpass our opinion and our hope.’ f76 Such was the faith that animated Luther and Calvin, and this was the cause of their triumph.

    As soon as Calvin saw that there was nothing more for him to do at Ratisbon, he ardently desired to leave the town, and with much earnestness begged permission to depart. Bucer and Melanchthon stoutly opposed it; but they yielded at last. He extorted his discharge, he says, rather than obtained it. On the arrival of deputies from Austria and Hungary, to demand aid against the Turks, the emperor commanded the adjournment of the religious debates, for the purpose of considering the means of resisting Solyman, who had already entered Hungary. ‘I would not let slip the opportunity,’ says Calvin, and so I got off.’ f77

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