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Faith, Love, and Hope: Towards the Sixth Epoch

Schmidt Number: S-2489

On-line since: 6th February, 2004

Faith, Love, Hope: II


3 December 1911

Rudolf Steiner

YESTERDAY we tried to gain a conception of the importance in human life of what may be termed the super-sensible revelation of our age. We indicated that this was to be reckoned the third revelation in the most recent cycle of mankind, and should, in a certain sense, be regarded as in sequence to the Sinai revelation and the revelation at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. We ought not to look upon this feature of our age as something affecting us merely theoretically or scientifically; as Anthroposophists we must rise to an ever fuller realisation that men, in their evolution, are neglecting something essential if they hold aloof from all that is being announced to us now and will be announced in the future. It is quite appropriate that at first the external world should pass this by, or even treat it as sheer fantasy; and quite natural also that, to begin with, many people should not pay attention to the harmful consequences of disregarding what is here in question. But Anthroposophists should be clear that the souls in human bodies to-day, irrespective of what they absorb at present, are approaching an ineluctable future. What I shall have to say concerns every soul, for it is part of the whole trend of change in our time.

The souls incorporated to-day have only recently advanced to the stage of that genuine ego-consciousness which has been in preparation during the course of evolution ever since the old Atlantean period. But for the people of those ancient days, up to the time when the great change was intimated by the Mystery of Golgotha, this ego-consciousness was gradually freeing itself from a consciousness of which present-day people no longer have any real knowledge. To-day modern men generally distinguish only between our ordinary condition of being awake and the state of sleep, when consciousness is in complete abeyance. Between these states they recognise also the intermediate one of dreaming, but from the present-day standpoint they can regard it only as a kind of aberration, a departure from the normal. Through dream-pictures certain events from the depths of the soul-life rise into consciousness; but in ordinary dreaming they emerge in such an obscure form that the dreamer is scarcely ever able to interpret rightly their very real bearing on deep super-sensible processes in his life of soul.

In order to grasp one characteristic feature of this intermediate state — a state well understood in earlier times — let us take an ordinary dream of which a scientific modern investigator of dreams, able to interpret it only superficially and in a materialistic way, has made a regular conundrum. A highly significant dream! You see, I am taking my example from the science of dreams, which — as I have mentioned before — has to-day been given a place, little understood though it is, among sciences such as chemistry and physics. The following dream, a characteristic one, has been recorded. I might easily have taken my example from similar, unpublished, dreams; but I would like to deal with one which raises certain problems for present-day commentators, who have no key to such matters.

Now the case is this. A married couple had a much beloved son, who was growing up to the joy of his parents. One day he fell ill, and his condition worsened in a few hours to such a degree that, at the end of this one day, he passed through the gate of death. Thus for the ordinary experience of this couple, their son was abruptly snatched from them, and the son himself torn from a life full of promise. The parents, naturally, mourned their son. During the months following there was a great deal in the dreams of both husband and wife to remind them of him. But, quite a long time — many, many months — after his death, there came a night when his father and mother had exactly the same dream. They dreamed that their son appeared to them saying he had been buried alive, having only been in a trance, and that they merely had to look into the matter to be convinced that this was true.

The parents told each other what they had thus dreamed on the same night, and such was their attitude to life that they immediately asked the authorities for permission to have their son's body disinterred. In such matters, however — conditions being as they are — authorities are not easily persuaded; the request was refused. The parents had this further cause for grieving.

Now the investigator who gave his account of the dream, and could think of it only in a materialistic way, was faced with great difficulties. To begin with it is very easy to say: Yes, this is quite intelligible. The parents were thinking so much about their son that it is obvious they would both have dreamt of him. But the puzzling thing was that they should have had the same dream on the same night. The investigator finally explained it in a remarkable way which is bound to seem very forced to anyone reading it. He said: We can only assume that one parent had the dream, and the other, hearing it when awake, got the idea that he (or she) had dreamt it also. To present-day consciousness this interpretation at first seems fairly obvious, but it doesn't go very deep. I have expressly mentioned that for anyone well-versed in dream-experiences there is nothing unusual in several people having the same dream at the same time.

Let us try now to look into this dream-experience from the point of view of Spiritual Science. The results of spiritual investigation show how a man who has gone through the gate of death lives on as an individuality in the spiritual world. We know, too, that there are definite connections between every thing and every being in the world, and that this is evident in the link that unites those who have departed with people still on earth, when the latter lovingly concentrate thoughts on their dead. There is no question of there not being a connection between those on the physical plane and those who have left it for the super-sensible world. There is always a connection when thoughts are turned at all to the dead by those left on the physical plane — a connection that may continue even when their thoughts are directed elsewhere. But the point is that human beings, organised as they are now for life on the physical plane, are unable when awake to become conscious of these bonds. Having no knowledge of a thing, however, does not justify denying its existence; that would be a very superficial conclusion. On that basis, those now sitting in this room and not seeing Nuremberg could easily prove there is no such place. So we must be clear that it is only because of their present-day organisation that men know nothing of their connection with the dead; it exists all the same.

However, knowledge of what is going on in the depths of the soul can occasionally be conjured up into consciousness, and this happens in dreams. It is one thing we have to reckon with when considering dream-experiences. Another thing is the knowledge that passing through death is not the sudden leap imagined by those knowing nothing about it; it is a gradual transition. What occupies a soul here on earth does not then vanish in a moment. What a man loves, he continues to love after his death. But there is no possibility of satisfying a feeling which depends for its satisfaction on a physical body. The wishes and desires of the soul, its joys, sorrows, the particular tendencies it has during incorporation in a physical body — these naturally continue even when the gate of death has been passed. We can therefore understand how strong was the feeling in this young man, meeting with death when quite unprepared, that he would like to be still on earth, and how keen was his longing to be in a physical body. This desire, working as a force in the soul, lasted on for a long, long time during his Kamaloka.

Now picture to yourselves vividly the parents, with their thoughts engrossed by this beloved dead son. Even in sleep the connecting links were there. Just at the moment when both father and mother began to dream, the son, in accordance with the state of his soul, had a particularly keen desire that we may perhaps clothe in these words: “Oh! If only I were still on earth in a physical body.” This thought on the part of the dead son sank deep into his parents' soul, but they had no special faculty for understanding what lay behind the dream. Thus the imprint of the thought on their life of soul was transformed into familiar images. Whereas, if they could have clearly perceived what the son was pouring into their souls, their interpretation would have been: “Our son is longing just now for a physical body.” In fact, the dream-image clothed itself in words they understood — “He has been buried alive!” — which hid the truth from them.

Thus, in dream-pictures of this kind we should not look for an exact replica of what is real in the spiritual worlds; we must expect the actual objective occurrence to be veiled in accordance with the dreamer's degree of understanding. To-day it is the peculiar feature of the dream-world that — if we are unable to go into these matters more deeply — we can no longer regard its pictures as faithful copies of what underlies them. We are obliged to say: Something is always living in our soul behind the dream-picture, and this picture can be looked upon only as a still greater illusion than the external world confronting us when we are awake.

It is only in our time that dreams are appearing to people in this guise; strictly speaking only since the events in Palestine, when ego-consciousness took on the form it has now. Before then, the pictures appeared while men were in a state different from either waking or sleeping — a third state, more like the one prevailing in the super-sensible world. Human beings lived with the dead in spirit far more than is feasible nowadays. There is no need to look back many centuries before the Christian era to realise what a countless number of people were then able to say: “The dead are certainly not dead; they are living in the super-sensible world. I can perceive what they are feeling and seeing, what they now actually are. This holds good also for the other Beings in the super-sensible world; those, for instance, whom we know as the Hierarchies.”

Thus, for human beings in certain states between waking and sleeping, these were experiences of which the last degenerate echoes linger on in dreams. Hence it was very important that men should then feel this disappearance of something they once possessed. In that traditional epoch of human evolution, when the great events were taking place in Palestine, there was indeed cause for saying: “Change your mood of soul; quite different times are coming for mankind.” And among the changes was this — that the old possibility of seeing into the spiritual world, of personally experiencing how matters stood with the dead and with all other spiritual beings, was going to pass away.

The history of those olden days offers ample evidence of this living with the dead — notably in the religious veneration arising everywhere in the form of ancestor-worship. This was founded on belief in the reality and activity of those who had died. And whereas it continued almost everywhere during the transitional period, men's experience was this, though perhaps not put clearly into words: “Formerly our souls could rise to the world we call that of the spirit, and we were able to dwell among the higher Beings and with the dead. But now our dead leave us in quite another sense; they disappear from our consciousness and the old vivid contact is no more.”

We come here to something exceptionally difficult to grasp, but the intelligent mind, the intelligent soul, can learn to do so. It was the early Christians who felt most vividly the loss of direct psychical contact with the dead, and it was this that made their worship of God so full of meaning, so infinitely deep and holy. They compensated for what was lost by the reverent feeling they brought to their religious ceremonies; when, for instance, they sacrificed at the graves of their dead or celebrated the Mass, or observed any other religious rite. In fact, it was during this period of transition, when consciousness of the dead was seen to be wanting, that altars took the shape of coffins. Thus it was with a feeling for mortal remains of this kind — unlike that of the ancient Egyptians — that the service of God, the service of the spirit, was reverently performed. As I have said, this is something not easy to understand. We need, however, only observe the form of an altar, and allow our hearts to respond to this gradual change in men's whole outlook, and feeling and understanding will then arise for the change and its consequences.

* * *

We see, therefore, that slowly, gradually, the present state of the human soul was brought about. From indications given yesterday it can be gathered that what has thus come into being will again be succeeded by a different state, for which people are already developing faculties. The example I gave you yesterday of how a man will see, in a kind of dream picture, his future karmic compensation for some deed, means the re-awakening of faculties that will lead the soul once more to the spiritual worlds. In relation to earthly evolution as a whole, the intermediate state when the soul has been cut off from the super-sensible world, will prove to be comparatively short. It had to come about for men to be able to acquire the strongest possible forces for their freedom. But something else of which I have spoken was bound up with the whole progress of human evolution — that only in this way was a man able to acquire a feeling of the ego within him; to have, that is, the right ego-consciousness. The farther men advance into the future, the more firmly will this ego-consciousness establish itself within them, always increasing in significance. In other words, the force and self-sufficiency of men's individuality will be increasingly accentuated, so that it becomes necessary for them to find in themselves their own effective support.

Thus we see that the ego-consciousness men have to-day does not go back as far as is usually imagined. Only a few incarnations ago, men had no ego-feeling such as is characteristic of them to-day. And as the ego-feeling is intimately connected with memory, we need not be surprised that many people should not have begun, as yet, to look back on their previous incarnations. Because of the undeveloped state of this feeling for his ego during early childhood, a man does not even remember what happened to him then; so it seems quite comprehensible that, for the same reason, he is unable yet to remember his earlier incarnations. But now we have come to the point when man has developed a feeling for his ego, and the forces are unfolding which will make it necessary in our coming incarnations to remember those that have gone before. The days are drawing near when people will feel bound to admit: “We have strange glimpses into the past, when we were already on the earth but living in another bodily form. We look back and have to say that we were already then on earth.” And among the faculties appearing more and more in human beings will be one which arouses the feeling: It can only be that I am looking back on earlier incarnations of my own.

Just think how in the human souls now on earth the inner force is already arising which will enable them, in their next incarnations, to look back and to recognise themselves. But for those who have not become familiar with the idea of reincarnation this looking back will be a veritable torment. Ignorance of the mysteries of repeated earthly lives will be actually painful for these human beings; forces in them are striving to rise and bear witness to earlier times, but this cannot happen because all knowledge of these forces is refused. Not to learn of the truths now being proclaimed through Spiritual Science does not mean neglecting — let us say — mere theories; it is on the way to making a torment of life in future incarnations. In these times of transition, accordingly, something is happening; the slow preparation for it can be gathered from our second Mystery Play, “The Soul's Probation,” where we are shown earlier incarnations of the characters portrayed — incarnations of only a few centuries before. The event was then already in preparation; and now, thanks to the wisdom of cosmic guidance, human beings will be given positive opportunities of making themselves familiar with the truths of the Mysteries.

At present comparatively few find their way to Spiritual Science; their number is modest compared with that of the rest of mankind. It may be said that interest in Anthroposophy is not yet very wide-spread. But, in our age, the law of reincarnation is such that those now going through the world apathetically, ignoring what experience can tell about the need for exploring the riddles of life, will incarnate again in a relatively short time, and thus have ample opportunity for absorbing the truths of Spiritual Science. That is how it stands. So that when perhaps we see around us people we esteem, people we love, who will have nothing to do with Anthroposophy, are even hostile towards it, we ought not to take it too much to heart. It is perfectly true, and should be realised by Anthroposophists, that refusing to look into Spiritual Science, or Anthroposophy, means preparing a life of torment for future incarnations on earth. That is true, and should not be treated lightly. On the other hand, those who see friends and acquaintances they care for showing no inclination towards Anthroposophy can say: “If I become a good Anthroposophist myself, I shall find an early opportunity, with the forces remaining to me after death, to prove helpful to these souls” — provided the living link we have spoken of is there. And because the interval between death and rebirth is becoming shorter, these souls, too, will have the opportunity of absorbing the Mystery-truths that must be absorbed if torment is to be avoided in men's coming incarnations. All is not yet lost.

We have, therefore, to look upon Anthroposophy as a real power; while on the other hand we must not be unduly grieved or pessimistic about the matter. It would be mistaken optimism to say: “If that is how things are, I need not accept the truths of Spiritual Science till my next incarnation” If everyone were to say that, when gradually the next incarnations come, there would be too few opportunities for effective aid to be given. Even if those wishing for Anthroposophy can now receive its truths from only quite a few people, the situation will be different for the countless hosts of those who, in a comparatively short time, will be eagerly turning to Anthroposophy. A countless number of Anthroposophists will then be needed to make these truths known, either here on the physical plane, or — if they are not incarnated — from higher planes.

That is one thing we must learn from the whole character of the great change now taking place. The other is that all this has to be experienced by the ego so that it should rely increasingly upon itself, becoming more and more independent. The self-reliance of the ego must come for all souls; but it will mean disaster for those who make no effort to learn about the great spiritual truths, for the increasing individualism will be felt by them as isolation. On the other hand, those who have made themselves familiar with the deep mysteries of the spiritual world will thereby find a way to forge ever stronger spiritual bands between souls. Old bonds will be loosened, new ones formed. All this is imminent, but it will be gradual.

* * *

We are living at present in the fifth post-Atlantean period, which will be followed by a sixth and then by a seventh, when a catastrophe will come upon us, just as one came between the Atlantean and post-Atlantean periods. When the lectures on the Apocalypse were given here in Nuremberg, you heard a description of this coming catastrophe, of how it will resemble and how it will differ from the one in old Atlantis.

If we observe life around us, we might express the particular feature of our age in this way: The most active element in human beings to-day is their intellectualism, their intellectual conception of the world. We are living altogether in an age of intellectualism. It has been brought about through quite special circumstances, and we shall come to understand these if we look back to the time before our present fifth post-Atlantean culture-epoch, the Graeco-Latin, as it is called. That was the remarkable period when human beings had not reached their present state of detachment from the outer manifestations of nature and knowledge of the world. But at the same time it was the epoch in which the ego descended among men. The Christ-event had also to happen in that epoch, because, with Him, the ego made its descent in a special way.

What then is our present experience? It is not just of the entering-in of the ego; we now experience how one of our sheaths casts a kind of reflection upon the soul. The sheath to which yesterday we gave the name of “faith-body” throws its reflection on to the human soul, in this fifth epoch. Thus it is a feature of present-day man that he has something in his soul which is, as it were, a reflection of the nature of faith of the astral body. In the sixth post-Atlantean epoch there will be a reflection within man of the love-nature of the etheric body, and in the seventh, before the great catastrophe, the reflection of the nature of hope of the physical body.

For those who have heard lectures I am giving in various places just now, I would note that these gradual happenings have been described from a different point of view both in Munich and in Stuttgart; the theme, however, is always the same. What is now being portrayed in connection with the three great human forces, Faith, Love, Hope, was there represented in direct relation to the elements in a man's life of soul; but it is all the same thing. I have done this intentionally, so that Anthroposophists may grew accustomed to get the gist of a matter without strict adherence to special words. When we realise that things can be described from many different sides, we shall no longer pin so much faith on words but focus our efforts on the matter itself, knowing that any description amounts only to an approximation of the whole truth. This adherence to the original words is the last thing that can help us to get to the heart of a matter. The one helpful means is to harmonise what has been said in successive epochs, just as we learn about a tree by studying it not from one direction only but from many different aspects.

Thus at present it is essentially the force of faith of the astral body which, shining into the soul, is characteristic of our time. Someone might say: “That is rather strange. You are telling us now that the ruling force of the age is faith. We might admit this in the case of those who hold to old beliefs, but to-day so many people are too mature for that, and they look down on such old beliefs as belonging to the childish stage of human evolution.” It may well be that people who say they are monists believe they do not believe, but actually they are more ready to do so than those calling themselves believers. For, though monists are not conscious of it, all that we see in the various forms of monism is belief of the blindest kind, believed by the monists to be knowledge. We cannot describe their doings at all without mentioning belief. And, apart from the belief of those who believe they do not believe, we find that, strictly speaking, an endless amount of what is most important to-day is connected with the reflection the astral body throws into the soul, giving it thereby the character of ardent faith. We have only to call to mind lives of the great men of our age, Richard Wagner's for example, and how even as an artist he was rising all his life to a definite faith; it is fascinating to watch this in the development of his personality. Everywhere we look to-day, the lights and shadows can be interpreted as the reflection of faith in what we may call the ego-soul of man.

* * *

Our age will be followed by one in which the need for love will cast its light. Love in the sixth culture-epoch will show itself in a very different form — different even from that which can be called Christian love. Slowly we draw nearer to that epoch; and by making those in the Anthroposophical Movement familiar with the mysteries of the cosmos, with the nature of the various individualities both on the physical plane and on the higher planes, we try to kindle love for everything in existence. This is not done so much by talking of love, as by feeling that what is able to kindle love in the soul is prepared for the sixth epoch by Anthroposophy. Through Anthroposophy the forces of love are specially aroused in the whole human soul, and that is prepared which a man needs for gradually acquiring a true understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. For it is indeed true that the Mystery of Golgotha came to pass; and the Gospels have evoked something which yesterday was likened to how children learn to speak. But the deepest lesson — the mission of earthly love in its connection with the Mystery of Golgotha — has not yet been grasped. Full understanding of this will be possible only in the sixth post-Atlantean culture-epoch, when people grow to realise more and more that the foundations for it are actually within them, and out of their innermost being — in other words, out of love — do what should be done. Then the guidance of the Commandments will have been outlived and the stage reached that is described in Goethe's words: “Duty — when one loves the commands one gives to oneself.” When forces wake in our souls which impel us to do what we should through love alone, we then discover in us something that must gradually become widespread in the sixth culture-epoch. Then in a man's nature quite special forces of the etheric body will make themselves known.

To understand what it is that must come about increasingly in this way, we have to consider it from two sides. One side has certainly not come yet and is only dreamt of by the most advanced in spirit; it is a well-defined relation between custom, morals, ethics and the understanding, intellectuality. To-day a man may be to a certain extent a rascal, yet at the same time intelligent and clever. He may even use his very cleverness to further his knavery. At present it is not required of people to combine their intelligence with an equal degree of morality. To all that we have been anticipating for the future this must be added — that as we advance, it will no longer be possible for these two qualities of the human soul to be kept apart, or to exist in unequal measure. A man who, according to the reckoning-up of his previous incarnation, has become particularly intelligent without being moral, will in his new incarnation possess only a stunted intelligence. Thus, to have equal amounts of intelligence and morality in future incarnations he will be obliged, as a consequence of universal cosmic law, to enter his new incarnation with an intelligence that is crippled, so that immorality and stupidity coincide. For immorality has a crippling effect upon intelligence. In other words, we are approaching the age when morality and what has now been described for the sixth post-Atlantean epoch as the shining into the ego-soul of the love-forces of the etheric body, point essentially to forces having to do with harmonising those of intelligence and morality. That is the one side to be considered.

The other side is this — that it is solely through harmony of this kind, between morality, custom, and intelligence, that the whole depth of the Mystery of Golgotha is to be grasped. This will come about only through the individuality who before Christ-Jesus came to earth prepared men for that Mystery, developing in his successive inearnations ever greater powers as teacher of the greatest of all earthly events This individuality, whom in his rank as Bodhisatva we call the successor of Gautama Buddha, was incarnated in the personality living about a hundred years before Christ under the name of Jeshu ben Pandira. Among his many students was one who had at that time already, in a certain sense, written down a prophetic version of the Matthew Gospel, and this, after the Mystery of Golgotha had been enacted, needed only to be given a new form.

There have been, and will continue to be, frequent incorporations of the individuality who appeared as Jeshu ben Pandira, until he rises from the rank of Bodhisatva to that of Buddha. According to our reckoning of time this will be in about 3,000 years, when a sufficient number of people will possess the above-mentioned faculties, and when, in the course of a remarkable incarnation of the individual who was once Jeshu ben Pandira, this great teacher of mankind will have become able to act as interpreter of the Mystery of Golgotha in a very different way from what is possible to-day. It is true that even to-day a seer into the super-sensible worlds can gain some idea of what is to happen then; but the ordinary earthly organisation of man cannot yet provide a physical body capable of doing what that teacher will be able to do approximately 3,000 years hence. There is, as yet, no human language through which verbal teaching could exert the magical effects that will spring from the words of that great teacher of humanity. His words will flow directly to men's hearts, into their souls, like a healing medicine; nothing in those words will be merely theoretical. At the same time the teaching will contain — to an extent far greater than it is possible to conceive to-day — a magical moral force carrying to hearts and souls a full conviction of the eternal, deeply significant brotherhood of intellect and morality.

This great teacher, who will be able to give to men ripe for it the profoundest instruction concerning the nature of the Mystery of Golgotha, will fulfil what Oriental prophets have always said — that the true successor of Buddha would be, for all mankind, the greatest teacher of the good. For that reason he has been called in oriental tradition the Maitreya Buddha. His task will be to enlighten human beings concerning the Mystery of Golgotha, and for this he will draw ideas and words of the deepest significance from the very language he will use. No human language to-day can evoke any conception of it. His words will imprint into men's souls directly, magically, the nature of the Mystery of Golgotha. Hence in this connection also we are approaching what we may call the future moral age of man; in a certain sense we could designate it as a coming Golden Age.

Even to-day, however, speaking from the ground of Anthroposophy, we point in full consciousness to what is destined to come about — how the Christ will gradually reveal Himself to ever-higher powers in human beings, and how the teachers, who up to now have taught only individual peoples and individual men, will become the interpreters of the great Christ-event for all who are willing to listen. And we can point out how, through the dawning of the age of love, conditions for the age of morality are prepared.

Then will come the last epoch, during which human souls will receive the reflection of what we call hope; when, strengthened through the force flowing from the Mystery of Golgotha and from the age of morality, men will take into themselves forces of hope. This is the most important gift they need in order to face the next catastrophe and to begin a new life, just as was done in this present post-Atlantean age.

When in the final post-Atlantean epoch our external culture, with its tendency to calculation, will have come to a climax, bringing no feeling of satisfaction but leaving those who have not developed the spiritual within them to confront their culture in utter desolation — then out of spirituality the seed of hope will be sown, and in the next period of human evolution this will grow to maturity. If the spirit is denied all possibility of imparting to men's souls what it can give, and what the Anthroposophical Movement has the will to convey, this external culture might for a short while be able to hold its own. Ultimately, however, people would ask themselves what they had gained and say: “We have wireless installations — undreamt of by our ancestors — to transmit our thoughts all over the earth, and what good does it do us? The most trivial, unproductive thoughts are sent hither and thither, and human ingenuity has to be strained to the utmost to enable us to transport from some far distant region, by means of all kinds of perfected appliances, something for us to eat; or to travel at high speeds round the globe. But in our heads there is nothing worth sending from place to place, for our thoughts are cheerless; more-over, since we have had our present means of communication, they have become even more cheerless than when they were conveyed in the old snail-like fashion.”

In short, despair and desolation are all that our civilisation can spread over the earth. But, in the last culture-epoch, souls who have accepted the spiritual in life will have become enriched, as if on the ruins of the external life of culture. Their surety that this acceptance of the spiritual has not been in vain will be the strong force of hope within them — hope that after a great catastrophe a new age will come for human beings, when there will appear in external life, in a new culture, what has already been prepared spiritually within the soul.

Thus, if we permeate our whole being with Spiritual Science, we advance step by step, in full consciousness, from our age of faith, through the age of love and that of hope, to what we can see approaching us as the highest, truest, most beautiful, of all human souls.

Translated by Violet Watkin.

Last Modified: 17-Oct-2017
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