People have wrestled with dualistic tension at least as far back as ancient Greece, with two competing streams epitomized in the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. But as the Magi and shepherds both came to adore the newborn Christ Child, all dualistic bedrocks crumbled before the manger of the incarnational God.

“Who make imagination’s dim exploring touch / Ever report the same as intellectual sight?” C.S. Lewis wrote these words before his conversion, crying out for reconciliation between imagination and reason.[1] He yearned for them to be in concord, reporting the same truth, so that he was not forced to give one up. However, they seem to be in an irreconcilable dualistic tension. Dualistic discord has continuously existed throughout the history of Western culture. Dualisms sever life and the world into two incompatible, reductionist streams, and mankind is forced to choose one or the other. Choosing one and rejecting another may mean sacrificing vital elements of life and the human experience. Ultimately, dualisms will leave man “stranded in one of two bleak worlds,” forcing him to surrender a significant part of what makes him human.[2] Christianity, however, ends reductionist dualisms. Only Christianity is all-encompassing enough to eradicate dualistic opposition and allows people to embrace their full humanity and rejoice in all of creation.

A general way to conceive of the dualisms that have arisen through the course of Western history is an upper story and lower story of a two-story building.[3] These stories have housed a wide variety of things over the years, but there is a similar thread. The material world resides in the lower story (although the definition of “material world” or “nature” changes), and the realm of meaning is in the upper story. The main dualistic trends can be summed up as form/matter, grace/nature (or sacred/secular), and freedom/nature (or freedom/determinism), with the first dualism springing out of Apollo and Dionysus.

People have wrestled with dualistic tension at least as far back as ancient Greece, with two competing streams epitomized in the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus.[4] Apollo is the god of civilization, order, law, custom and is “rational, intellectual and stoic”; Dionysus is the god of the wild, nature, and the body and is “intuitive, emotional and ecstatic.”[5] Nietzsche observed that if either the Dionysian or Apollonian thread becomes dominant, a dangerous extreme emerges: “wherever the Dionysian prevailed, the Apollonian was… destroyed… wherever the first Dionysian onslaught was successfully withstood, the authority… of [Apollo] exhibited itself as more rigid and menacing than ever.”[6] Nietzsche was correct in detecting the sharp distinction and opposition between these two gods, but he did not go far enough in his assessment of the two streams. He did not have insight into the “radical meaning and the true interrelationship between these two opposing religious motives.”[7] Herman Dooyeweerd, however, did have that insight and realized the Apollo and Dionisius divide is crucially central to Greek thought, and consequently Western thought. Nietzsche focuses on the Apollo and Dionysiac dualism as competing art impulses. He predominantly sees Apollo as representing the “dream-image” of artists and Dionysus as representing the “drunkenness” or ecstasies of artists, and the combination of the two leads to the creation of Greek Tragedies.[8] In contrast to a dream/drunkenness dualism, Dooyeweerd goes deeper and broader. He sees the unresolved conflict between Apollo and Dionysus as leading to a form/matter dualism, which becomes the Greek’s central religious bedrock.[9] (Every culture has a central religious bedrock—an impelling force that gives ultimate direction, reveals the origin of existence, governs daily life, determines the worldview, and shapes culture, science, and the social structure.[10] The central bedrock is termed “religious” because it is the absolute starting point of all theories and views, and the “absolute has a right to exist only in religion.”[11])

Ancient Greece’s central religious bedrock, the form/matter dualism, evolved from the competing natures of Dionysus and Apollo because Dionysus is part of the telluric gods who are wrapped up in the material world, and Apollo is part of the Olympic pantheon in a realm high above the material world. In other words, Dionysus is in the lower story, connected with matter, and Apollo is in the upper story, connected with meaning-producing form. The lower story of Dionysus is part of the “older telluric, chthonic, and uranic nature religions”—religions that deified organic development and the biotic aspect of life.[12] Such religions saw matter as a stream of organic life that eternally flowed throughout the process of birth, death, and rebirth in a cyclical pattern.[13] Matter came into individual form, but that individual form was always “doomed to disappear” and the life stream could then come back in a different form.[14] The constantly changing material world was a “world of becoming” and decay.[15] It did not have rational, traceable order but rather followed Anangke, or blind fate.[16] This belief provided a certain comfort to the Greeks: Although all individual life would inevitably face destruction, the divine stream of life would continue. ‘Mother Earth’ would continuously sustain the religion and give birth to the cyclical stream of life.[17]

The upper story of Apollo became part of an other-worldly, celestial religion—a religion that deified cultural aspects of society. Instead of being a religion of nature, it was “the religion of rational form, measure, and harmony.”[18] Apollo was an idealized and personified cultural force that left ‘Mother Earth’ and the life cycle to live on Mount Olympus.[19] Since he left earth and “its ever-flowing stream of organic life,” he could have an immortal, ideal form that is beyond the senses.[20] Apollo existed in the unchanging “world of being” and transferred form, measure, and harmony to the “supra-terrestrial sphere of the starry sky.”[21] That meant man now had a double origin: His rational soul corresponded to the perfect, starry, unchanging sphere, but his material body originated from the imperfect, ever-changing sphere of Mother Earth.[22] The soul was thus imprisoned in the body and had to “transmigrate from body-to-body,” until the rational soul could purify itself from the material body and return to the celestial sphere.[23] The form/matter dualism put the soul and body at odds, with soul in the upper story, and body in the lower.

The dualism also put a dividing line between public and private life. The Olympian religion, with Apollo as god, “became the public religion of the Greek polis,” but in their private lives, “the Greeks continued to hold to the old earthly gods of life and death.”[24] The reason for the split is because Apollo or Dionysus alone could not meet all of man’s greatest needs. Olympian gods, as mere culture gods of the state, did not have power over the fate of death. In private then, the Greeks continued the ancient rites of nature religions, worshipping the earthly, formless deities, because they related to man’s existential needs.[25] The dialectical tension pushed Greek thought “to polar extremes and forced it into two radically conflicting directions.”[26] The “principle of blind fate governing the eternal flux of all individual forms” stands over against “the principle of the supernatural, rational, and immortal form, itself not ruled by the stream of becoming.”[27] No true synthesis was possible between form and matter, and so one would always have primacy and one would always be depreciated.[28] Form and matter each had different governing absolutes (the principle of rational form versus the principle of blind fate and life stream), but it was the two of them combined into a dichotomized, superior and inferior relationship that became the central religious bedrock. Eternal reason, or form, and eternal formless flux, or matter, became the twofold origin of the world.[29]

The religious bedrock of Greece was so influential that Christians felt a need to combine the Greek conception of nature with the Christian conception of grace. That led to another predominant dualism: the grace/nature split. In this dualism, the conception of nature in the lower story was Aristotelian. Instead of nature being a formless stream, Aristotle had conceived of form as embedded into nature itself. In a sense, form descended from Olympus to become united with the earth. Under that conception, all things on earth, including humans, are made up of matter and form.[30] With form as part of the material world, nature had inherent rationality with traceable order. Nature now had a “built-in Ideal” instead of just being a constantly changing, directionless flux.[31] Since Aristotle seemed to unify form and matter, some Christians saw his view of nature as a way to reject the twofold origin of the world and uphold the doctrine of creation.[32]

According to some Christians, in addition to form and matter, humans were also given a gift of grace: a “suprahuman faculty of thought and will” that kept them in right relationship with God.[33] That extra faculty was lost in the Fall, but matter and form remained largely untouched, so a split was formed. In the upper story is grace and in the lower story is a union of form and matter, also known as nature.[34] That split led to an “unbridgeable rift between nature and grace; nature became independent, losing every point of contact with grace” and so it was an artificial synthesis.[35] The natural sphere of life was independent from God’s Word and this “false division of human life into a natural and a supra-natural sphere” started secularization.[36] In other words, it led to what is now known as the sacred/secular split. The split widened into secularization because with grace as just a mere add-on, it did not relate to nature in an intrinsic way, and thus did not affect daily life in the natural world.[37] Grace started to become nothing more than an enhancement or ornamentation to life.[38] If nature already has rational direction inherent in it leading to the Ideal, and nature has been largely unaffected by the Fall, God’s grace does not seem necessary for life in the natural world. It started to seem as if nature could go from the “world of becoming” to the “world of being” all on its own.

Since grace was just an enhancement, it became easy to remove it from the central religious bedrock altogether.[39] All that was left then was nature, but the modern view of nature made life deterministic, so the new add-on became freedom, and the freedom/nature or freedom/determinism bedrock emerged. With the rise of modern science and evolutionary theory, nature was no longer seen as adhering to form, but adhering to deterministic, mechanistic laws.[40] If nature was formed by blind chance and random processes, then nature could not have a design, purpose, or goal. Evolution is, in a sense, the same as anangke, blind fate. However, the evolutionary blind fate is not chaotic and incalculable like anangke: Nature operates according to evolutionary-produced fixed laws. The anangke of evolution has order, but not meaning. This mechanistic world-image left no room for human freedom.[41] After all, if nature is just an uninterrupted chain of cause and effect, and humans belong to nature, there is no possibility for human freedom.[42] Nature was in the lower story sensory realm, and deemed objective and scientific; freedom of man was restricted to the upper story “supra-sensory realm of ethics” and deemed subjective and spiritual.[43] Reconciliation between the two was impossible “since both were religious and thus absolute,” so religious primacy had to be assigned to one over the other.[44] Mankind is forced to make a choice between rationality without freedom or irrationality with freedom: “In the fully objective downstairs… man is rational but determined by forces he cannot control. In the fully subjective upstairs, he is free but finally irrational.”[45]

The upper story of freedom was formed to preserve artistic, or imaginative, truth. Romantics wanted to have more to life than just the mechanistic, deterministic reality. They helped split the universe into the poetic and empirical to maintain a truth other than just rational truth. However, bifurcation was not a good preservation strategy because it gave the impression that “artistic truth” has nothing objective to say about the “real” world of the senses. The artistic or spiritual truth could only apply to its own boxed-up “poetic universe.”[46]

That is the tension Lewis was experiencing. The world had been split between knowledge gained by imagination or knowledge gained by the senses, which was a bleak world indeed. With the field of knowledge divided, mankind must decide between living their lives in the “the public, external, mechanistic downstairs,” and surrender their “yearnings for supernatural Truth and transcendent Beauty, or to leap into the private, internal, spiritual upper room and sacrifice all rational propositions and historical content.”[47] As Owen Barfield described it, the field of knowledge was divided into two “prison cells,” with science in one and the arts and humanities in the other. For man to live a unified, integrated life, “both prisoners needed to be liberated.”[48] That is exactly what Christianity does. It bursts open the cell doors and allows both the upper story of imagination and the lower story of reason to meet on the same floor and be significantly integrated. Lewis’s realization of this led to his conversion.

At first, Lewis’ extensive knowledge of myths kept him from Christ. Lewis assumed Christianity was just another myth, for other myths had gods taking on human forms, dying, and coming back to life. Lewis later realized that the Gospel sounds so familiar because Jesus is the great myth who became fact.[49] The story of Christ appeals to the lower story because it is a historical fact, but it also applies to the upper story. Even though the story became fact, it did not stop having mythical radiance. As such, to be truly Christian, one “must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths.”[50] In other words, as Louis Markos puts it, “we must not allow [Jesus’] status as the historical dying god to rob him of his mythic splendor. Christ should speak not only to our rational, logical side, but to our sense of wonder and awe as well.”[51] Christianity is the perfect myth and perfect fact, and thus it appeals “to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.”[52] The upper story had the poets and artists, and the lower story had the scholars, philosophers, and scientists. Christianity evaporates the divide, so a Christian can be both a poet and a philosopher, an artist and a scientist. Christianity, satisfying both reason and imagination, is broad enough to welcome all fields of knowledge.

Christianity is the answer to the other bleak dualistic bedrocks as well. Christ fulfills the form/matter dualism. The Olympian, cultural gods of form could not help humans—they were too far away to have any power over the materialistic fate of life and death. The chthonic gods of matter did not provide any harmony or rational purpose to life since they were too close. Being part of fate and the ever-changing organic matter, they could not significantly order and influence it. Christ, however, fulfilled the roles that the Greeks needed Apollo and Dionysus to fulfill. Jesus is simultaneously both transcendent, like Apollo, and immanent, like Dionysus, so he is not too close nor too far to help. Christ is the ultimate Apollo for he is the Word made flesh, the Logos (John 1:1), or Divine Reason.[53] He is the ultimate Dionysus because his death could save people from the “fate” of death. Dionysus was not immortal, and his suffering and death was symbolically reenacted by followers, and then he had miraculous rebirths, appearing in new forms.[54] Jesus was also the suffering, dying god, but he only had to rise to life one time to conquer death for all. Furthermore, in divergence with the view of the body as a prison, Christianity shows the importance of the body. Christ rose again in the body and ascended into heaven in the body, and one day, Christians’ bodies will be resurrected as well. Matter need not be shunned, for God was clear on what he thought about it: “it was good” (Gen. 1).

Christianity also heals the bleak world of the grace/nature or sacred/secular divide. Living only in the sacred upper story, all Christians would have to be ascetics. Christianity, in contrast, acknowledges that creation, including things like marriage, are good. It seems as if God assigned “secular” work for Adam and Eve when he told Adam to name the animals and told both Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it. It is all God’s creation though, so their tasks were “sacred.” Living in the secular lower story, Christians would have to assume that their daily job, family life, etc., had no fundamental relationship to faith. In contrast, Christian doctrine posits that there “is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’”[55] With that view, terms such as “reconciled” and “renews” do not belong to a delimited area of life, an area of life typically called “sacred.” Christianity has an integral perspective that does not accept a distinction between sacred and secular realms.[56] That integrated perspective means redemption in Jesus Christ restores, or recreates, the original good creation. If it was true, as the grace/nature dualism states, that nature operated on its own and was not significantly impacted by the Fall, that means it would never be redeemed. However, it is obvious that creation is groaning, and the Bible declares that creation will indeed be redeemed, “delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Rom. 8:22).

In contrast to the dualistic religions, Christianity does not make mankind choose only an aspect of creation or knowledge—the whole breadth and depth is open to him. Man does not need to choose a reductionist worldview, which will consequently reduce himself. Since each stream in a dualism is reductionist, mankind is reduced to whichever stream he chooses. That is likely why Lewis felt such painful yearning for imagination and reason to report the same thing: Both were part of his human experience, and he did not want to have to choose between them, reducing his humanity to one or the other. In a sense, he was longing to be fully human. Only Christianity opens the possibility of being fully human, for all dualistic religions will necessarily be reductionist. They absolutize something on earth that only has relative meaning. Since they are not starting with a transcendent Creator, they must choose something within creation to start with, and that becomes absolute.[57] When they absolutize or deify something creational, making it the origin and bedrock, all of creation will be reduced to it.[58] Since the dualistic streams of each central religious bedrock are antithetical to each other, man must choose one or the other to have primacy. As a result, “the diverse and multi-faceted world God created is reduced to a single category.”[59] Instead, Christians can appreciate the diversity, confident that they will not come across contradictory principles. Since Christ is the integral Origin of all things as the Creator, there will not be an expression of two contradictory origins like with the dualistic religions.[60] The diversity reveals richness of creation, not opposition. As Dooyeweerd elucidates, in the order of reality set by God the Creator, the great diversity of aspects can be detected, “each with its own irreducible nature and law, which proclaims the astonishing richness and harmony of God’s creative wisdom.”

Christ brought a great diversity of aspects together in peace, beginning with the first moments of his life. Priests had been using myth to reach god with imagination and philosophers had been using reason to gain truth, and they could not find a way to interact. It was not until Christ that the two could be brought into harmony. As Dr. Markos states, commenting on Chestertonian thought, “This miraculous alliance of myth and philosophy is best illustrated by the Christmas story itself, which presents us with simple shepherds and learned Magi who both kneel in wonder and reverence before the Christ child.”[61] Not only did Christ offer fulfillment to both imagination and reason, but also, by inviting the shepherds and Magi, it was as if God invited both Apollo and Dionysus to celebrate the birth of his Son. The Magi were looking up at the starry, celestial world for answers and the shepherds were people of the field, spending most of their time looking down at the material world while tending their flocks. Yet both were included, brought together as one unified group of worshipers. The first Christmas even shows the sacred/secular split as false, for it was shepherds, not priests, whom God called to come worship.

Therefore, as the Magi and shepherds both came to adore the newborn Christ Child, all dualistic bedrocks crumbled before the manger of the incarnational God. His incarnation revealed that two could be one.[62] He was the Logos (divine reason) who created matter and declared it good, the One whose grace would redeem every inch of the world, the free agent who would set all mankind free, and the teacher of reason whose Passion would reconcile the world to himself.

This essay was birthed under the tutelage of Nancy Pearcey and Louis Markos at Houston Baptist University.

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[1] Poem quoted in Malcolm Guite, “Telling the Truth through Imaginative Fiction: C.S. Lewis on the Reconciliation of Athene and Demeter,” in C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (eds. Michael Ward and Peter Williams; Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2017), 17.

[2] Louis Markos, “The Pre-Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer,” in Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 102. He is referring in large part to the fact/value dualism, but I have applied this concept to other dualisms as well.

[3] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 21.

[4] I write “Greek gods,” but technically, these gods could be non-Greek in origin. See Herman Dooyeweerd, Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy: Vol. 1: The Greek Prelude in The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Vol. 5, trans. Ray Togtmann, eds. Robert D. Knudsen and Daniel Strauss (Grand Rapids, MI: Paideia Press, 2012), 6.

[5] Louis Markos, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 179.

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Clifton Fadiman (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1995), 12.

[7] Herman Dooyeweerd, Reformation and Scholasticism, 6.

[8] Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, 1-5.

[9] Dooyeweerd, Reformation and Scholasticism, 4-11.

[10] Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought in The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, vol. 16, (Grand Rapids, MI: Paideia Press, 2012), 130 and Roots, 8-9. Moreover, Dooyeweerd posits that this impelling force is communal, not individualized. It governs the individual even if he does not realize the influence. It is a “community founding spiritual force that is not controlled by people. Rather, it controls them.” Roots, 9.

[11] Roots, 8 and Reformation and Scholasticism, 3, 22. Another term for this concept could be underlying worldview or central paradigm. Dooyeweerd uses the term ground-motive. It comes from the Dutch word grondmotief. The word motief is ambiguous: “it can mean both ‘motif’ (i.e. ‘theme’) and ‘motive’ (i.e ‘driving force’).” (Al Wolters, “Ground-Motive,” Anakainosis: A Newsletter for Reformational Thought, Volume 6, Number 1 (Sept. 1983): 1-4) Adding the word “ground” to it means it is the absolute grounding of existence. (Roots, 8). A ground-motive is not mere philosophical thought, but rather precedes philosophical theories because it is a “deeper and more encompassing religious power which motivates human life in general” (Roots, 2). Since a religion provides motifs, motives, ultimate direction for life, etc., the concept of ground-motive can be termed the central religious bedrock.

[12] Reformation and Scholasticism, 4 and Roots, 112.

[13] Roots, 16 and Twilight, 29.

[14] Roots, 16.

[15] Markos, Achilles to Christ, 189 and Roots, 20.

[16] Roots, 16-17.

[17] Roots, 17.

[18] Dooyeweerd, Reformation and Scholasticism, 8.

[19] Roots, 17, 29.

[20] Roots, 29-30.

[21] Twilight, 113.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. Readers will likely recognize that this sounds Platonic. This dualism could also be termed “Platonic dualism.” See Total Truth, 74-75.

[24] Twilight, 30. It is interesting to note that the public realm used to be the upper story and the private realm used to be the lower story, because that shifted with the sacred/secular and value/fact split, with private life in the upper story, and public life in the lower story. It’s also intriguing that the upper story used to take primacy, but since the dawn of modern science, the lower story now takes primacy.

[25] Twilight, 112 and Roots, 19. They also become more oriented to “mystery worship” since questions of life and death were central to that worship. See Roots, 19.

[26] Roots, 21.

[27] Roots, 19.

[28] Twilight, 112.

[29] Roots, 119 and Total Truth, 75.

[30] Roots, 117.

[31] Total Truth, 79. This built-in ideal sounds akin to Aristotle’s concept of telos. All of nature has within it a purpose or design since the form gives it a rational direction. Can nature still have telos yet grace not be merely an add-on? That question needs to be explored further.

[32] For the sake of simplicity and not to derail the main point, I am saying “Christians,” whereas Dooyeweerd says “Roman Catholics.”

[33] Roots, 117. I am deliberately not going into great detail here, as a discussion on natural law would be beyond the scope of this essay. Dooyeweerd states that Roman Catholics have a pretended biblical basis for the nature and grace contrast, but that is debatable. See Roots, 118-119. Dooyeweerd could be misunderstanding innate natural law, and a correct conception could still include creation, fall, redemption for all of life. However, the main point that some Christians have conceived of grace as merely an “add-on” and not essential to all of life still stands.

[34] In personal communication with Nancy Pearcey on December 4, 2017, she explained that “nature” in the grace/nature split included both form and matter, so the lower story definition of nature had changed from the Greek conception. It was no longer just matter. Her explanation then helped me realize that is what Dooyeweerd was getting at. See Roots, 116-119.

[35] Roots, 118, 149.

[36] Roots, 132.

[37] Total Truth, 79-80.

[38] Personal Communication with Nancy Pearcey, December 4, 2017.

[39] Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 33.

[40] Although it could perhaps be argued that form embedded in nature was deterministic, at least the form gave the nature meaning and purpose.

[41] Twilight, 35.

[42] Roots, 153-154. Specifically, it was Kant who sharply separated nature and freedom.

[43] Ibid., 35-36.

[44] Roots, 153-154.

[45] Markos, “The Pre-Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer,” 102.

[46] See Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault On Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 181.

[47] Markos “The Pre-Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer,” 102.

[48] Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 210.

[49] Markos, Achilles to Christ, 248-249.

[50] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 59

[51] Markos, Achilles to Christ, 249.

[52] Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” 60.

[53] Logos definition: “Logos” in Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2017).

[54] Dooyeweerd, Reformation and Scholasticism, 7.

[55] Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 461.

[56] Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishers, 2005), 11-12.

[57] Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 140.

[58] Roots, 13 and Twilight, 25. I understood this concept when I encountered it in Dooyeweerd in large part because Nancy Pearcey taught the same concept in her Modernism and Postmodernism class.

[59] Saving Leonardo, 140.

[60] Roots, 28.

[61] Louis Markos, “From Cavemen to Christians: G. K. Chesterton’s Précis of History,” in Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century.

[62] Personal Communication, Louis Markos, December 6, 2017.

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