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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Eusebius (60), Bishop of Nicomedia

Eusebius (60) , bp. of Nicomedia. Our knowledge of his character is derived almost exclusively from the bitter language of his theological antagonists. He wielded an extraordinary influence over the fortunes of some of the great party leaders of the 4th cent. The fascination he exercised over the minds of Constantine and Constantius, his dexterity in utilizing both secular and ecclesiastical law to punish his theological enemies, his ingenuity in blinding the judgment of those not alive to the magnitude of the problem, and in persuading the unwary of the practical identity of his own views with those of the Catholic church, together with the political and personal ascendancy he achieved, reveal mental capacity and diplomatic skill worthy of a better cause. During 20 years his shadow haunts the pages of the ecclesiastical historians, though they seldom bring us face to face with the man or preserve his words. Even the chronology of his life is singularly uncertain.

It is difficult to understand the pertinacity and even ferocity with which Eusebius and his party pursued the Homoousian leaders, and to reconcile this with their well-accredited compromises, shiftings of front, and theological evasions. Dr. Newman (Arians of Fourth Cent. p. 272) admits their consistency in one thing, "their hatred of the sacred mystery." He thinks that this mystery, "like a spectre, was haunting the field and disturbing the complacency of their intellectual investigations." Their consciences did not scruple to "find evasions of a test." They undoubtedly compromised themselves by signature; yet they did not treat as unimportant that which they were wont to declare such but set all the machinery of church and empire in motion to enforce their latitudinarian view on the conscience of the church.

The Arian and the orthodox agreed as to the unique and exalted dignity of the Son of God; both alike described the relation between the first and second hypostasis in the Godhead as that which is imaged to us in the paternal and filial relation. They even agreed that the Son was "begotten of His Father before all worlds"—before the commencement of time, in an ineffable manner—that the Son was the originator of the categories of time and place, that "by His own will and counsel He has subsisted before time and before ages, as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable" (Letter of Arius to Eus. of Nic. preserved by Theodoret, i. 5). They agreed that He was "God of God," "Light of Light," and worthy of all honour and worship. The orthodox went further, and in order to affirm that the Deity of the Son of God was absolute and not relative, infinite and not finite, asserted that He was of the same οὐσία with the Father. There Arius and Eusebius stopped, and, pressing the significance of the image of Father and Son by materialistic analogies into logical conclusions, argued that "generation" implied that "there was [a period, rather than a 'time'] when He was not," that "He was not before He was begotten." The one element, said they, which the Son did not possess by His generation was the eternal, absolute οὐσία of the Father. "We affirm," said Eusebius, in his one extant authentic letter, addressed to Paulinus of Tyre (Theod. i. 6), that "there is one Who is unbegotten, and that there also exists Another, Who did in truth proceed from Him, yet Who was not made out of His substance, and Who does not at all participate in the nature or substance of Him Who is unbegotten."

If we follow out the logical conclusions involved in the denial of the orthodox statement on this transcendental theme, it is more easy to understand the abhorrence with which the dogmatic negations of the Arians were regarded by the Catholic church. The position of Arius and Eusebius involved a virtual Ditheism, and opened the door to a novel Polytheism. After Christianity had triumphed over the gods of heathendom, Arius seemed to be reintroducing them under other names. The numerical unity of God was at stake; and a schism, or at least a divarication of interests in the Godhead, shewn to be possible. Moreover, the "Divinity" of the Incarnate Word was on this hypothesis less than God; and so behind the Deity which He claimed there loomed another Godhead, between Whom and Himself antagonism might easily be predicated. The Gnosticism of Marcion had already drawn such antagonism into sharp outline, and the entire view of the person of the Lord, thus suggested, rapidly degenerated into a cold and unchristian humanitarianism.

The exigencies of historic criticism and of the exegesis of the N.T. compelled the Arian party to discriminate between the Word, the power, the wisdom of God, and the Son. They could not deny, since God could never have been without His "Logos," that the Logos was in some sense eternal. So they took advantage of the distinction drawn in the Greek schools between λόγος ἐνδιάθετος , identifiable with the wisdom, reason, and self-consciousness of God, and λόγος προφορικός , the setting forth and going out at a particular epoch of the divine energy. The latter they regarded as the λόγος which was made flesh and might be equated with the Son. "The external (prophoric) word was a created Being made in the beginning of all things as the visible emblem of the internal (endiathetic) word, and (used as) the instrument of God's purposes towards His creation" (Newman, l.c. 199; cf. Athan. Hist. Conc. Arim. et Seleuc. cap. ii. § 18).

The orthodox party admitted the double use of the word λόγος , allowed that it answered to the eternal wisdom and also to the eternal manifestation of God, and discarding the trammels of the figurative expression by which the internal relations of the Godhead can alone be represented to us, declared that they could not carry the materialistic or temporal accompaniments of our idea of Father and Son into this "generation," and boldly accepted the sublime paradox with which Origen had refuted Sabellianism—viz. the "eternal generation of the Son." To suppose the relation between the Father and Son other than eternal was to be involved in the toils of a polytheistic emanation and Gnostic speculation. Compelled to formulate expressions about the infinite and eternal God, they concluded that any formula which divided the essence of God left infinity on the one side, and the finite on the other, i.e. that there would be, on this hypothesis, an infinite difference even in majesty and glory between the Father and the Son. This was blasphemy in the eyes of those who held the Divinity of the Son of God.

The controversy was embittered by the method in which Arius and Eusebius appealed to Holy Scripture. They urged that Godhead and participation in the divine nature were attributed to Christ in the same terms in which similar distinctions are yielded by God to other creatures, angelic, human, or physical (Theod. H. E. i. 6, 8). Thus Christ's rank in the universe might be indefinitely reduced, and all confidence in Him ultimately proved an illusion. The argument had a tone of gross irreverence, even if the leaders can be quite acquitted of blasphemous levity or intentional abuse.

One of the tactics of the Arian or Eusebian party was to accuse of Sabellianism those, like Athanasius, Eustathius, and Marcellus of Ancyra, who refused their interpretation of the relation between the Father and the Son. Doubtless many not versed in philosophical discussion were incapable of discriminating between the views of Sabellius and an orthodoxy which vehemently or unguardedly condemned the Arian position. Eusebius repudiated violently the Pantheistic tendency of the Sabellian doctrine. He is the most prominent and most distinguished man of the entire movement, and it has been plausibly argued that he was the teacher rather than the disciple of Arius. Athanasius himself made the suggestion. We learn on good authority, that of Arius himself, that they were fellow-disciples of Lucian of Antioch (ib. 5). Lucian afterwards modified his views and became a martyr for the faith, but his rationalizing spirit had had a great effect on the schools of Antioch. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Eusebius was a distant relative of the emperor Julian, and therefore possibly of Constantine.

It may have been through the wife of Licinius and sister of Constantine that he received his first ecclesiastical appointment. This was the bishopric of Berytus (Beirout) in Syria. We cannot say under what pretext he was translated to the see of Nicomedia a city which was still the principal seat of the imperial court. In Nicomedia his ambitious spirit and personal relations with the imperial family gave him much influence. "He was," says Sozomen (H. E. i. 15) "a man of considerable learning and held in high repute at the palace." Here were spun the webs by which the Arian conspiracy for a while prevailed over the faith and discipline of the church. One of the most authoritative documents of Arianism is a letter sent by Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia after his first suspension from presbyteral functions at Baukalis Alexandria in which he reminds Eusebius of their ancient friendship and briefly states his own views.

    [See Arius.] Arius boasts that Eusebius of Caesarea Theodotus of Laodicea Paulinus of Tyre Athanasius of Anazarbus Gregory of Berytus Aetius of Lydda and all the bishops of the East if he is condemned must be condemned with him (Theod. H. E. i. 5). The alarm created by the conduct of Arius and his numerous friends in high quarters induced Alexander of Alexandria to indite his famous letter to Alexander of Constantinople which is of an encyclical character and was sent in some form to Eusebius of Nicomedia and other prelates. Exasperated by its tone Eusebius called a council in Bithynia (probably at Nicomedia itself) of the friends of Arius who addressed numerous bishops desiring them to grant communion to the Arians and requiring Alexander to do the like (Soz. i.15). These proceedings drew from Eusebius a written expression of his views in a letter to Paulinus of Tyre preserved by Theodoret (i. 6). Eusebius believed Alexander of Alexandria to be in doctrinal error but not yet so far gone but that Paulinus might put him right. He tacitly assumed that the party of Alexandria asserted "two unbegotten beings," a position utterly denied by themselves. He repudiated strongly the idea that the Son was made in any sense out of the substance of God; declaring the Son "to be entirely distinct in nature and power," the method of His origination being known only to God not even to the Son Himself. The verb "created," in Pro_8:22-26 could not Eusebius said have been used if the "wisdom" of which the prophet was speaking was ἐξ ἀποῤῥοίας τῆς οὐσίας: "For that which proceeds from Him Who is unbegotten cannot be said to have been created or founded either by Him or by another." The effect of the word "begotten" is reduced to a minimum by saying that the term is used of "things" and of persons entirely different in nature from God. "Men," "Israel," and "drops of dew" are in different scriptures said to be "begotten" of God. Therefore Eusebius argued the term cannot and does not carry similarity still less identity of nature. At first the emperor Constantine treated the conflict as if capable of easy adjustment by a wise exercise of Christian temper. In 324 he wrote a joint letter which he entrusted to Hosius of Cordova (Soz. H. E. i. 16) in which he called upon Alexander and Arius for the sake of peace to terminate their controversy. The dispute was a "trifling and foolish verbal dispute," and difference of judgment was he urged compatible with union and communion. Constantine had probably been led to this step by Eusebius of Nicomedia and the strong pressure put upon Alexander to receive Arius into communion corresponds with the subsequent persistent demand of the Eusebians. The effort at mediation failed although conducted with skilful diplomacy and tact by the venerable Hosius. As the dispute was no mere verbal quibble but did in reality touch the very object of divine worship the ground of religious hope and the unity of the Godhead the well-meant interference of the emperor merely augmented the acrimony of the disputants. Arius was again condemned by a council at Alexandria and the entire East was disturbed. The angry letter of Constantine to Arius which must have been written after his condemnation by the Alexandrian council and before the council of Nicaea shews that the influence of Eusebius must now have been in abeyance. Constantine was no theologian but hated a recalcitrant subordinate in church or state and hence the undoubted vacillation of his mind towards Alexander Arius Eusebius and Athanasius. At the oecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 Eusebius defended the excommunicated presbyter and was the advocate and interpreter of his opinions before the council. We must give him credit for moral courage in risking his position as bishop and as court favourite for the sake of his theological views and opposing himself almost single-handed to the nearly unanimous judgment of the first representative assembly of the Christian episcopate—a judgment fanned into enthusiasm by martyrs and monks from the African monasteries and accepted hurriedly but passionately by the emperor. The courage was of short duration and made way for disingenuous wiles. Eusebius soon displayed an inconsistent and temporizing spirit. Whether or no they still held that the difference was merely verbal when the Arian bishops in the council found that the Godhead of the Redeemer was declared by the vast majority to be of the very essence of Christian doctrine they made every effort to accept the terms in which that Godhead was being expressed by the council making signs to each other that term after term such as "Power of God," "Wisdom of God," "Image of God," "Very God of very God," might be accepted because they could use them of such divinity as was "made" or constituted as such by the divine appointment. Thus they were becoming parties to a test which they were intending to evade. The term Homoousion as applied to the Son of God rallied for a while their conscience and Eusebius declared it to be untenable. According to Theodoret (i. 8) the "formulary propounded by Eusebius contained undisguised evidence of his blasphemy; the reading of it occasioned great grief to the audience on account of the depravity of the doctrines; the writer was covered with shame and the impious writing was torn to pieces." The inconsistency of the Arian party is exaggerated by Theodoret for he adds "the Arians unanimously signed the confession of faith adopted by the council." This is not precisely the case. There were 17 bishops (Soz. i. 20) who at first refused their signatures among them both the Eusebii Theognis of Nicaea Menophantus of Ephesus Secundus of Ptolemais Theonas Patrophilus Narcissus Maris and others. Eusebius of Caesarea after long discussion signed the symbol which was in fact an enlargement of a formal creed that he had himself presented to the council on the ground that the negative dogmata of the Arian party which were anathematized by the council could not be found in Scripture. Others of his party followed. According to Theodoret (i. 9) all except Secundus and Theonas joined in the condemnation of Arius; and Sozomen (i. 21) declares explicitly that Eusebius of Nicomedia with others "sanctioned" the decision of the synod as to the consubstantiality of the Son and the excommunication of those who held the Arian formulae; but Sozomen goes on to say that "it ought to be known that Eusebius and Theognis although they assented to the exposition of faith set forth by the council neither agreed nor subscribed to the deposition of Arius." Sozomen apparently makes this refusal to sign on the part of Eusebius and Theognis to have been the reason or occasion of their own exile and of the filling up by Constantine of their respective sees with Amphion and Chrestus. Philostorgius admits that the whole Arian party except Secundus and Theonas signed the symbol but that they did it deceitfully (ἐν δόλῳ) with the mental reservation of ὁμοιούσιον (of similar substance) for ὁμοούσιον (of the same substance). He adds according to his editor that they did this under the direction of Constantina the sister of Constantine; and further he relates that "Secundus when sent into exile reproached Eusebius for having signed saying that he did so in order to avoid going into exile and that Secundus expressed a confident hope that Eusebius would shortly be exiled an event which took place three months after the council." Moreover Athanasius (de Decretis Syn. Nic. cc. 3 18) expressly says that Eusebius signed the formulary.

Notwithstanding their signature, for some reason Eusebius and Theognis were banished for nearly three years from their respective sees. Theodoret (H. E. i. 20) preserves a portion of a letter written by Constantine against Eusebius and Theognis, and addressed to the Nicomedians. The document displays bitter animosity, and, for so astute a prince, a curious simplicity. Constantine reveals a private grudge against Eusebius for his conduct when Licinius was contending with him, and professes to have seized the accomplices of Eusebius and to have possessed himself of damaging papers and trustworthy evidence against him. He reproaches Eusebius with having been the first defender of Arius and with having deceived him in hope of retaining his benefice. He refers angrily to the conduct of Eusebius in urging Alexandrians and others to communicate with the Arians. This pertinacity is suggested by Constantine as the actuating cause and occasion of his exile.

Epiphanius (Haer. lxviii.) details the circumstances of the union of the Meletian schismatics with the Arians, and the disingenuous part taken by Eusebius in promising his good offices with the emperor, if they in their turn would promote the return of Arius to Alexandria, and would promise inter-communion with him and his party.

The terms of hatred and disgust with which Constantine speaks of Eusebius render his early return to Nicomedia very puzzling. Sozomen (ii. 16) and Socrates (i. 14) both record a letter (a.d. 328) from Eusebius and Theognis to "the Bishops, " explaining their views, in which they say, "We hold the same faith that you do, and after a diligent examination of the word ὁμοούσιος , are wholly intent upon preserving peace, and are seduced by no heresy. Having proposed for the safety of the church such suggestions as occurred to us, and having certified what we deemed requisite, we signed the confession of faith. We did not certainly sign the anathemas —not because we impugned the confession of faith, but because we did not believe the accused to be what he was represented to us. . . . So far from opposing any of the decrees enacted in your holy synod, we assent to all of them—not because we are wearied of exile, but because we wish to avert all suspicion of heresy. . . . The accused having justified himself and having been recalled from exile, . . . we beseech you to make our supplications known to our most godly emperor, and that you immediately direct us to act according to your will." If this letter is genuine, it demonstrates the fact of their partial and incomplete signature of the symbol of Nicaea, and that the incompleteness turned on personal and not on doctrinal grounds. Other statements of Sozomen (ii. 27) are in harmony with it, but there are reasons for hesitating to receive these statements, and the letter itself is in obvious contradiction with the evidence of Philostorgius (i. 9) and Epiphanius (lxviii. 5) that Eusebius and Theognis signed the symbol, anathemas and all. Are we to believe these writers against the testimony of Sozomen and Socrates, who expressly give a consistent representation undoubtedly more favourable to Eusebius?

The most powerful argument of De Broglie and others against the genuineness of the letter, as being written from the exile of Eusebius, is the silence of Athanasius, who never uses it to shew the identity of the position and sentiments of Arius and Eusebius. Philostorgius recounts a rumour that after the council Eusebius desired to have his name expunged from the list of signatures, and a similar statement is repeated by Sozomen (ii. 21) as the possible cause of the banishment of Eusebius. The fact may, notwithstanding the adverse judgment of many historians, have been that Eusebius signed the formulary, expressing the view he took of its meaning, and discriminating between an anathema of certain positions and the persecution of an individual. A signature, thus qualified, may have saved him from immediate banishment. In the course of three months his sympathy with Arius and his underhand proceeding with the Meletians may have roused the emperor's indignation and led to his banishment. The probability that Arius was recalled first, as positively stated in what purports to be a contemporary document, is certainly greater than that merely à priori probability on which De Broglie insists. Moreover, if Arius had been restored to favour, the vacillating mind of Constantine may have been moved to recall the two bishops. At all events, c . 329, we find Eusebius once more in high favour with Constantine (Socr. H. E. i. 23), discharging his episcopal functions and persuading Constantine that he and Arius held substantially the creed of Nicaea. Thenceforward Eusebius used his great power at court and his ascendancy over the mind of Constantine to blast the character and quench the influence of the most distinguished advocates of anti-Arian views. He put all the machinery of church and state into operation to unseat Athanasius, Eustathius, Marcellus, and others; and, by means open to the severest reprehension, steadily and unscrupulously strove to enforce his latitudinarian compromise on the Catholic church. It is not difficult to trace his hand in the letter of Constantine threatening Athanasius, now archbp. of Alexandria, with deposition if he did not admit those anxious for communion. Moreover, Athanasius assures us that Eusebius wrote to him personally with the same object. The answers Athanasius gave to Eusebius and the emperor made it clear that the project could never succeed so long as Athanasius remained at Alexandria.

Meanwhile, considerable controversy had occurred between Eusebius of Caesarea and Eustathius of Antioch on the true meaning of the term Homoousios. Eustathius [See Eustathius (3)], in his zeal for the Nicene faith, had strenuously refused to admit Arians into communion, and laid himself open, in the opinion of Eusebius of Caesarea, to the charge of Sabellianism (Soz. ii. 18). This provided the opportunity for Eusebius of Nicomedia to strike a blow at Eustathius, and nothing can exceed the treachery shewn by Eusebius on this occasion. His apparently friendly visit to Eustathius on his way to Jerusalem (Soz. ii. 19; Theod. i. 21), the gathering of his Arian supporters on his return to Antioch, shew the scheme to have been deeply laid. Here, a.d. 330 or beginning of 331, the council of his friends was held, at which the charge of Sabellianism was, according to Theodoret (i. 21) and Philostorgius (ii. 7), aggravated by the accusation brought by a woman, that Eustathius was the father of her child—a not uncommon device of the enemies of ecclesiastics. The upshot was that through this, and other vamped-up charges of disrespect to the emperor's mother, Eustathius was deposed and exiled by the Eusebians. The letter of Constantine upon the affair, and against heretics generally, brought the controversy to a lull, until the first attack upon Athanasius. The career of Eusebius of Nicomedia during the remaining ten years of his life is so closely intertwined with the romantic sufferings of Athanasius that it is difficult to indicate the part he took in the persecution of Athanasius without reproducing the story of this great hero of the Catholic faith. The first charge which Eusebius encouraged the Meletians to bring against Athanasius concerned his taxing the people of Egypt for linen vestments, and turned upon the supposed violence of Macarius, the representative of Athanasius, in overthrowing the altar and the chalice, when reproving (for uncanonical proceedings) Ischyras, a priest of the Colluthian sect. These charges were all absolutely disproved by Athanasius before Constantine at Nicomedia. On his return to Alexandria, Athanasius had to encounter fresh opposition. The preposterous story of the murder of Arsenius, with its grotesque accompaniments, was gravely laid at his door. [See Athanasius.] To this, at first, he disdained to reply. Eusebius declared even this to be a serious charge, and made much capital out of the refusal of Athanasius to attend the council at Caesarea, which was summoned, among other causes, to investigate it (Theod. i. 28). In 335, the partisan council of Tyre passed a sentence of deposition upon Athanasius, who had fled to Constantinople to appeal to the emperor, who summoned the whole synod of Tyre before him. Eusebius and a few of his party, Theognis, Patrophilus, Valens, and Ursacius, obeyed the summons, and confronted Athanasius; but abandoning the disproved charges upon which the sentence of deposition rested, they met him with new accusations likely to damage him in the view of the emperor. Constantine yielded to the malicious inventions of Eusebius, and banished Athanasius to Trèves, in Feb. 336. The cause of banishment is obscure, but twice over (Ap. § 87, Hist. Ar. § 50) Athanasius declares that Constantine sent him to Gaul to deliver him from the fury of his enemies. While Athanasius was in exile Eusebius and his party impeached Marcellus of Ancyra for refusing to appear at the council of Dedication at Jerusalem, a.d. 335, and for Sabellianism, an implication of heresy to which he exposed himself while zealously vindicating his refusal to hold communion with Arians. [See Asterius (1); Marcellus.] Marcellus was deposed by the Eusebians, and not restored till the council of Sardica. At the council of Dedication at Jerusalem, Arius propounded a view of his faith which was satisfactory to the council, was received into communion there, and sent by Eusebius to Alexandria, whence, as his presence created great disturbance, he was summoned to Constantinople. There Arius died tragically on the eve of the public reception which Eusebius had planned. The death of Alexander of Constantinople followed very shortly, and the effort to elect Paul (Paulus (18)] in his place (without the consent of the bp. of Nicomedia) roused the ire of Eusebius, who intrigued to secure his first deposition. Eusebius must still have retained the favour of Constantine, as he appears to have administered baptism to the dying emperor, May 337. Jerome says that by this act Constantine avowed himself an Arian. "But all history protests against the severity of this sentence" (de Broglie). Hefele supposes that Constantine regarded Eusebius as the great advocate of Christian unity. Moreover, in the eyes of Constantine, Eusebius was one who had signed the Nicene symbol, and had renounced the negations of Arius. The ecclesiastical historians give divergent statements as to when Eusebius was raised to the episcopate of Constantinople. Theodoret (i. 19) accuses Eusebius of unlawful translation from Nicomedia to Constantinople "in direct violation of that canon which prohibits bishops and presbyters from going from one city to another," and asserts that this took place on the death of Alexander. There is, however, proof that Paul, who was twice banished through the influence of Eusebius, was the immediate successor of Alexander. Paul was nominated by Alexander, but the Eusebian party put forward Macedonius (Soz. iii. 4), and were defeated. The dispute roused the indignation of Constantius, and "through the machination of the enemies of Paul a synod was convened, and he was expelled from the church, and Eusebius, bp. of Nicomedia, was installed in the bishopric of Constantinople"; with this statement Socrates (ii. 7) agrees. For a while the education of Julian was entrusted to Eusebius, who had unbounded influence over Constantius.

In 340 the Eusebians held a synod at Antioch, at which Athanasius was once more condemned. In 341 (May) the council developed into the celebrated council in Encaeniis , held also at Antioch, at which, under the presidency of Eusebius or Placetus of Antioch, and with the assent and presence of Constantius, divers canons were passed, which are esteemed of authority by later oecumenical councils. These two councils are confounded and identified by Socrates (ii. 2) and Sozomen.

The cruel injustice to which Athanasius was subjected by long exile is freely attributed to Eusebius, as its mainspring and constant instigator. Nevertheless the last thing we are told about Eusebius by Socrates (ii. 13) is that he appealed from the council of Antioch to Julius, bp. of Rome, to give definite sentence as to Athanasius, but that before the sentence of Julius reached him, "immediately after the council broke up, breath went out of his body, and so he died," a.d. 342.

In addition to authors already cited, the following may be consulted: The Orations of St. Athanasius against the Arians, according to the Benedictine Text, with an Account of his Life , by William Bright, D.D.; Hefele, History of the Christian Councils , translated by Prebendary Clark and Mr. Oxenham, vols. i. and ii.; Möhler, Athanasius der Grosse und die Kirche seiner Zeit (1844); William Bright, D.D., History of the Church from 313 to 451 (1869); Albert de Broglie, L’Eglise et l’Empire (1856), t. ii.; The Arians of the Fourth Century , by J. H. Newman (4th ed. 1876).


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Eusebius (60), Bishop of Nicomedia'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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