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THE INTUITION OF FAITH.
“We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
ST. PAUL here contrasts the revelation given by God through Moses, with the revelation given by the Word made flesh. The first was given to one alone; Moses alone saw the skirts of the divine glory, and spoke with God in the mount: we all behold His glory, and have access through the Son to the Father. Moses, after speaking with God, had need to put a veil upon his face, for the people could not bear even the reflected brightness of God’s Presence: St. Paul says, “We all with open face” behold it. The Word made flesh has both revealed to us the glory of the Lord, and has given to us the power to look upon it: “God was manifest in the flesh.” He is “the brightness of His glory, and the express 370 image of His Person;”207207 Heb. i. 3. “the image of the invisible God:”208208 Col. i. 15. He “dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”209209 St. John i. 14. But this revelation upon earth was transient; it had passed away when St. Paul wrote these words. Yet though past, it was not withdrawn: though hidden, it was yet revealed. “The glory of the Lord,” in Christ, is an eternal revelation, open still to us: “We all with open face” behold it now.
By faith we stand before the throne, out of which go forth “lightnings and thunderings and voices;” by faith we dwell continually in the presence of the Divine Majesty. The Son hath returned unto the Father, and His visible presence is no more seen. But “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”210210 2 Cor. iv. 6.
Let us first see what is this great sight, “the glory of the Lord.” It is fourfold. First, there is the glory of His Godhead—eternal, infinite, invisible, all-wise, all-mighty, love, wisdom, and power; the glory of the Divine Personality, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; “the Father made of none, neither created nor begotten; the Son of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but 371begotten; the Holy Ghost of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.” This is the essential glory of God, inhabiting eternity, “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”211211 1 Tim. vi. 15, 16.
And in this glory, descending from the uncreated to the manifestation of Himself, is the glory of the Word made flesh. “God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world, and man of the substance of His Mother, born in the world; perfect God, and perfect man:” two natures in one Person, never to be divided; who having “by Himself purged our sins,” hath sat down, with the stigmas of His passion, upon, the throne of glory, of whose “kingdom there shall be no end.”212212 Heb. i. 3; St. Luke i. 33.
This is the glory of God, before which the spirits of love and the spirits of knowledge cry “Holy” evermore, which angels worship, and the whole heavenly court adores; the mystery of the eternal Three, one God, blessed for ever, revealed in the Incarnate Son.
But around this beatific vision, and from this 372 Incarnate Presence descending, is the glory of the kingdom of God, the throne and government of the Incarnate Son, to whom, when He laid “the government upon His shoulder,”213213 Isaiah ix. 6. the Father said, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”214214 Ps. xlv. 7. “Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: . . . and round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. . . . . And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.”215215 Rev. iv. 2; vii. 11; v. 8. “And I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell in the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season.” “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; 373and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”216216 Rev. vi. 9-11; viii. 3, 4.
What is this vision which was unfolded to the sight of St. John in Patmos, but the glory of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ? To the prophet it was an object of vision; to us an object of faith. He beheld it as it is revealed to the orders of saints and angels in heaven; and he saw the angelic ministries of power and grace, by which the elect of God are sealed and gathered into His unseen rest. What is this but the kingdom in which apostles, prophets, martyrs, and all saints, reign with Christ—the invisible head and source of the spiritual kingdom, both in heaven and earth, ever multiplying and expanding its fulness, as from age to age it gathers in the generations of the faithful from our lower world?
And what is the visible Church militant on earth but the outskirts and lower sphere of this ever-enlarging mystery of grace, here in its faint beginnings, sinful and mortal, there sinless and redeemed from death? This, too, is the glory of the Lord.374
He that sitteth upon the throne “holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, and walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”217217 Rev. ii. 1. He who filleth all in all, visible in heaven, as touching His manhood, is present, though unseen on earth, in the undivided fulness of His incarnate personality. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns by the direct exercise of His divine government throughout heaven and earth. He has knit together “the services of angels and men in a wonderful order,” and out of earthly elements created sacraments of grace. The Church in heaven and earth is one: the twofold manifestation of His glory on either side the veil. The invisible and blessed part of the Church which has gone before us with the sign of faith, and rests in the sleep of peace, is an object of faith, because wholly withdrawn from sight; but the Church on earth is as yet partly an object of sense. We see it and converse with it, behold its worship, kneel at its altars, touch its sacraments, handle its mysteries. And yet it is not an object of sense only, but also of faith. For what is its visible order but the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Ghost? What are the gifts of regeneration, the invisible operation of visible sacraments, the spiritual illumination and guidance of the Church, the power of prayer, the communion 375of saints, the mutual love and intercession of all members of Christ’s body, the pledges of the resurrection,—what are all these but realities issuing from the incarnation of the Son, laws of His mediatorial kingdom, descending from on high into “all places of His dominion,” manifold miracles issuing from the one great miracle of His perpetual presence, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail?
And, lastly, what are all these degrees of glory but revelations of the moral glory of the Lord; that is, of the love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ? This is the central light, of which all other glory is the brightness and the radiance. This is the image of God as seen of angels, revealed in the face of Jesus Christ; into the likeness of which every faithful soul is changed by the Spirit of the Lord. The divine character of God, and the human character of the incarnate Son; the love and sanctity, the humility and meekness of the Son of Mary, God and Man in one person, our Redeemer and our example. He created us by His power, and now, through faith, changes us by His Spirit, making us like unto Himself, and will “change also even the body of our humiliation, that it may be like unto the body of His glory, by the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.”376
This, then, is the glory of the eternal God, the blessed Three, the holy One, the glory of the Son of Man, the glory of His kingdom and His character, both in heaven and earth. And all these together make up but one divine and spiritual reality, which through our baptismal creed is as truly proposed to our faith as the world we see is presented to our sight.
Now St. Paul says that we, as members of Christ, behold all this manifold glory “as in a glass,” as if it were a direct object of vision, and that by beholding it we are changed. It has an assimilating power; and that which makes us capable of its transforming influence is our beholding it “with open face.” What, then, is this power of vision, this spiritual sight, by which the unseen is visible; in one word, what is faith? It is the power which the Son of God has given us to behold the glory of the Lord.
But we are asked, What is this power, this faith, which is given to us?
The controversies of these later ages have committed two evils: they have dethroned the object of faith, and have degraded faith itself. Faith is something more divine than disputants believe. Some will have it to be a speculative assent to truths revealed; and some, to correct them, will have it to be a principle of moral action; and 377others, to set both sides right, join together these two definitions in one, and tell us that faith is a principle of moral action springing out of a speculative assent to truths revealed. As if faith were something partial and fragmentary, the action of half our being; an effect without a cause, or with a cause simply human, and within the natural endowments of the human intelligence. Surely all these alike, if not all equally, come short of truth. We might as well say that sight is a belief of things seen, or that sight is action arising out of a belief in what we see. What are these but the effects of sight demanding and pointing to a cause? They are the consequences of sight, not sight itself. So action and assent spring from faith; but what is that cause or power which is before both the assent and action of faith? What but faith itself? And what is it? Faith is a spiritual consciousness of the world unseen, infused into us, in our regeneration, by the supernatural gift of God. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”218218 1 Cor. ii. 14. He needs a divine power of intuition implanted in the soul and terminating on the world unseen, as sight is a natural faculty of perception terminating on the world we 378 see. And faith is that power of spiritual perception analogous to sense, that is, to sight, hearing, and feeling; and also to affection, that is, to love, fear, and desire. It is as wide as the whole soul of man, uniting it in one continuous act. As our waking sense checks our irregular thoughts, and subjects us to the conditions of the world we see; so faith brings the whole spiritual nature of man under the dominion and laws of the unseen kingdom of God. This supernatural gift was infused into us as a habit by the Spirit of God; but in its acting it depends upon our will.
Now to make this somewhat clearer, let us take it in order.
We have by nature two powers by which we attain to knowledge, and two objects upon which these powers terminate. Revelation and regeneration have superadded a third object and power, which embrace and perfect the other two.
By nature we apprehend this sensible creation by sense. Sensations are the beginning of knowledge, as to this visible world. And sensations are bounded by the limits of sense. They cannot reach beyond the horizon of sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and the like.
But we have a higher power directed to a higher object. We have intellect, which terminates upon the intellectual world. And by intellect 379we interpret our sensations; we perceive such objects as cause, relation, proportion, substance, and the like. Intellect is a higher power than sense, and corrects its errors. Phenomena are the objects of sense; ideas are the objects of the intellect. The ideal world is a reality which informs the world of sense. To the phenomena of creation intellect adds at once the idea of God, not so much by inference as by consciousness, that is, by a concurrent perception.
But revelation has proposed to us another and higher object—a world of spiritual realities; and regeneration has infused into us a power to apprehend it. Sense gives us the perception of the visible world; intellect its interpretation, namely, the power and perfection of God; faith, the mystery of the Godhead. Intellect corrects and exalts sense; faith corrects and exalts both. To take an example. Sense beheld in Jesus of Nazareth a man; intellect, a man endowed with supernatural powers; faith, the Word made flesh. The judgments of sense and of the intellect were true, but inadequate: faith included and corrected both, exalting them to a spiritual intuition. Take another example. The blessed Sacrament to sense is bread and wine; to intellect a symbol; to faith the Body and Blood of Christ. Or, once more, to sense the visible Church is a society of men; to 380 intellect an organised and historical kingdom; to faith it is the heavenly court on earth, the beginning of the new creation of God.
The consciousness of spiritual life unites itself with the presence of God, and in Him is united to the proper objects of faith, that is, to things unseen. And therefore faith has been defined as the perfection of the will and of the intellect—of the will as it sanctifies, of the intellect as it illuminates, of both at once as it issues in its congenial fruits. It is one all-penetrating, manifold, wakeful, energetic power, like the principle of life itself, universal, quickening, and prolific. Acting towards God, it issues in trust, love, prayer, contemplation, worship; towards man, in charity, gentleness, self-denial; upon ourselves, in abasement, discipline, and penance.
When it draws motives of action from the unseen, it is “the victory which overcometh the world;” when it dwells with fixed and confiding desire upon the kingdom of God, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;” when it conforms our will to the will of God, it is the transforming intuition which changes us “into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It works in all the workings of our nature, taking up all our natural powers, restoring to each its original perfection, 381uniting them in conscious harmony with God.
But this infused gift of faith, like all gifts of God, is subject to the will in man. It is the matter of our highest probation. It may he used or abused, matured or neglected, made perfect or perverted. It may be quenched, until it dies down into a mere consciousness of spiritual agony; or it may be sustained by its proper acts and energies upon the objects of faith, upon God, and the mysteries of His kingdom, the Word made flesh, the heavenly court, the real presence of Christ on earth, the perpetual mystery of Pentecost, the grace of sacraments, and the effusion of the Spirit of God.
If, then, our salvation depends upon beholding this glory of the Lord, and if the power to behold it be a gift entrusted to us by God, depending for its exercise and for its very existence on our will, then how may it be unfolded and matured?
First, by purifying the conscience. The gift of this spiritual consciousness is implanted in us by baptism; but the sin which still dwells in us perpetually sends up exhalations of its sensuality. As these prevail, men live by sense, and “walk after the flesh;” and in that proportion the regenerate consciousness is obstructed and stupified. 382 It becomes deadened and inactive. This is what we call unbelief. Not that Christians do not believe in God and Christ and judgment to come; but that they are insensible: what they believe has no power to alarm or to persuade them.
They so develop the consciousness of self and sin, of the flesh and of the world, that they become habitually unconscious and insensible towards the world unseen. I do not mean absolutely unconscious, for none except the imbruted actually lose consciousness of God and judgment. The sinful retain a consciousness which is their scourge and torment; the remembrance of a world beyond the grave, in which every holy power is arrayed against them, is their anguish. They cannot shake it off. Day and night it haunts and clings to them. It holds them with a frightful tenacity; for St. James says, “The devils believe, and tremble.”219219 St. James ii. 19. A regenerate soul, in rebellion against the spiritual light within, has a power of wickedness greater than that of mere humanity. This accounts for the intense malignity of regenerate sinners. They have a twofold capacity of evil, both of the flesh and of the spirit. And they have a twofold measure of remorse. The spiritual consciousness is keen and vivid in its sense of fear and pain; it is the gnawing of “the worm that dieth not.” It 383wraps them about as the flame which never shall be quenched.
We can see at once the effect of gross sins in destroying this gift of sanctifying and enlightening consciousness. But we often fail to purify our conscience from the infections of more refined evils; and yet these are almost equally destructive to the intuition of faith. We may see this in what we call worldly men. The action of the world deadens the keenness of their spiritual perceptions; the habit of fixing attention on objects of sense and of intellect has a tendency to draw the mind from the objects of spiritual contemplation. The external eye is busier than the internal, and draws all thoughts after it. We all know that familiarity with the outward world makes men unimaginative, dry, and matter-of-fact; they become bounded by sense, and by the round of daily experience and events; they live in habitual forgetfulness of the unseen.
We see this in ambitious men. Forecasting and keen-sighted as they are for the doubles and changes of political life, they seem wanting in the very faculty of realising the kingdom of God. This world dazzles and intoxicates them; they become excited in their career, and concentrated in their aim. Every thing bends to it; all is lost in it; all beyond it is nothing to them. The least event, 384 chance, or probability, will summon up all their power, and launch them in long and obstinate struggles. But the Word of God, which smites as a hammer, and the certainty of judgment soon to come, fail to move them. The same is true of all intense application of mind, as in professions, science, literature, or business; the over-wrought and weary mind loses its inwardness, and becomes passive and external. It forfeits also its sensitiveness, and comes at last to perceive nothing but that which powerfully excites it. This is specially true of the love of money; both in getting and hoarding, its rust passes into the soul. The same is true also of a life of pleasure; nothing more deadens and relaxes the fibre of the mind, and wears out its perceptions. The languid and exhausted soul grows too heavy to dwell on the invisible. The noise, hurry, and perpetual excitement of self-indulgence wastes away the deeper and finer senses; then a refined selfishness turns all the powers of the mind to minister to itself. It becomes absorbed in the one thought of self-pleasing and self-worship. Every thing high and true is too severe and real for its softened and shrinking touch. No unbelief is nearer to practical atheism than the unconsciousness of a frivolous and worldly heart.
It is not only unlawful things, but also lawful 385things in unlawful measures, which dull the consciousness of things eternal. A life of God’s best earthly gifts may so overgrow the soul as to make it dim and insensible. Friends, possessions, happiness, fill up the heart, anticipate every wish, clog every desire, and bind the soul by fond and tenacious affections to home, its gifts and joys. There is no craving for another state, when this is so full of pleasures. Such men have no desire to wind up this daily happiness and to depart. Life has too many pledges; eternity is too severe. These things, too, cloud the inward vision, and draw a veil over the objects of faith.
This must be purged away, if we would waken up our spiritual consciousness of God and the kingdom of His grace.
A single cloud, even a film of conscious sin, dulls the spiritual sense. It closes its sight for fear, and shrinks from the realities which condemn it as it beholds them. Then darkness thickens over the soul, and hangs as a veil between it and the presence of God: “If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.”220220 St. Matt. vi. 23.
A clear intention is the very life of the consciousness of God and of His kingdom. And this clear intention of the heart is to be attained only by habitual self-examination and penitent confession, 386 made under the eyes in which the heavens are unclean.
This is the first and absolute condition to beholding “the glory of the Lord.”
2. The next is, a habitual use of spiritual exercises, such as meditation and prayer, whether mental or in words, and the like. By spiritual exercise is meant specially, an exercise of the will awakening the consciousness of our spiritual life. Reading and thought are almost passive states, so far as concerns the will. Emotions and desires we cannot control; but the wall is our very self summed up in a continual energy or act. Prayer is chiefly an act of the will. Both desires and thoughts often flag and wander, while the will is steadfast in prayer. It is by such an exercise of the will that the intuitions of faith, and the actings of faith, are awakened and matured; for faith, as we have seen, is a moral habit, having its root in the will. If we will, we can realise spiritual things; or, if we will not, all is impalpable and dark. Truth is truth to us only when we perceive it. The unseen world is a reality to us only when we are conscious of it. The whole Catholic faith, the worship of the Church, the discipline of spiritual life through devotions and sacraments, has no existence for us, until we have united our spiritual consciousness with them by acts 387of faith and of the will. Catholic tradition can only propose these things from without; pastors can only provoke or stir us to personal acts of faith.
There is one severe and absolute condition to our knowledge of eternal realities; we must know them by our own experience and intuition: “God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”221221 St. John iv. 24. Therefore so few worship Him indeed. There are many kinds of religious character, but only one has the true faith which beholds “with open face.” Some Christians are conscientiously formal; some faultless in their intellectual views of truth; some full of devout emotions and sensations: but all these may alike fall short of the calm, severe, penetrating, and spiritual insight of faith.
It is not difficult to find the reason of this. Religion has touched this or that part of their nature,—the conscience, the intellect, the emotions,—but has passed lightly over the will. They have exercised the conscience, intellect, and emotions, but have left the will undisciplined and immature. Therefore they complain of weariness, coldness, and weakness. The objects of faith are faint, and wield little power over them, because the inward consciousness is languid and dim. This is the reason why their prayers are so broken and 388 lukewarm. They are the occasional conditions of their heart, not the occasional utterances of an habitual intention.
Without mental prayer and the exercise of the will, all devotions fall into a mechanical recitation. The mere intellectual habit of dwelling on unseen realities seems altogether wanting in many minds. They find it no hard task to listen, or to read, or to pass ideas in rapid succession across the eye of their mind; but to dwell steadfastly on any one thought, such as sin, judgment, the love of God, the passion of our Lord, and to hold it fast by repeated meditation and sustained reflection till it has awakened a response in their personal consciousness, seems to many people intellectually impossible. Their mind appears unable to poise itself so long upon a solitary thought. As soon as it begins, it wavers and falls into distraction. They are variable and restless, passing and repassing from truth to truth without realising any; and what we do not realise is as powerless as a shadow.
But if the unseen world have no transforming influence over us, this world will surely and deeply conform us to itself. All things around play upon us: all the day long its incessant and importunate activity warps us into its own mould and inclination. We become sensual, or intellectual, or formal; familiar with truth, but without feeling; full 389of sensations and emotions without stability, of aspirations without attainment, of intentions without perseverance. And why? Because the object of faith finds no intuition or response in our consciousness or in our will.
Let us, then, make it part of our daily life to exercise ourselves in acts of faith, hope, and love; that is, to dwell on these, and on the motives from which they spring, till our spiritual life has taken their form and direction. Every day we should endeavour to renew the decaying perceptions of our hearts, by recalling the realities of our baptismal creed, and making them a part of our inward life by deliberate acts of will. And all the day long our endeavour, and at least our habitual intention, ought to be to realise the presence of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of His heavenly court, until we live before Him with a sustained consciousness of His nearness, that He is our Life, and that we dwell in Him and He in us, ever changing us “into the same image from glory to glory” by the power of His Spirit.
3. And the last and highest means of perfecting the gift of grace is, to exercise it habitually upon the real presence of our blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Body and of His Blood. For this very end it was ordained, that when He should withdraw His visible presence, He might 390 still abide with us unseen; that when He ceased to be an object of sight, He might become an object of faith; and that the spiritual consciousness of our hearts should there for ever meet with the reality of His presence. The holy Eucharist is the point of union between what is subjective and what is objective in our life of faith. It is in itself an object both of sight and of faith. In the sphere of sense it is unchanged; and of all matters subject to its cognisance, sense is an ultimate and absolute judge. But the realities of the unseen world are not subject to sense; they are objects of faith alone. And that holy mystery is what it is made by the consecration of the Son of God. It represents to us His Incarnation, Sacrifice, and Death. It presents to us the realities of His Body and Blood. It applies them to us by His Divine power, and incorporates us with Himself. As an object of faith, it is made what it is called by consecration; to us it is what it becomes, whether unto life or death, by our faith: we can neither make nor unmake its objective reality. We have power only over our manner of receiving it. It stands as the visible witness of the world unseen: a supernatural object in the midst of this natural order; “the glory of the Lord” “as in a glass,” yet beheld “with open face.”
In this divine mystery the order of the new 391creation of God is visibly set forth. What the Church does on earth, our only and true High Priest does in Heaven. The blessed Eucharist is the earthly counterpart of the altar, seen in the apocalyptic vision. We offer the Lamb of God in a mystery. It lies slain upon mount Sion. The great oblation of the cross is a perpetual propitiation, ever fresh and all-prevailing before God. In the holy Sacrament it is exhibited and applied. The whole work of redemption is there visibly proposed to our faith. The incarnation of the Eternal Word: the love of the Son of God: His quickening death: His body wounded, His blood shed for the life of the world: our incorporation in His mystical body: His true and substantial union with us: our participation of His divine nature: our perpetual sustenance by His presence, who is the Resurrection and the Life,—all these compass us about; we are in their presence and in contact with them. This is the closest access to which we are now admitted with the Presence of Christ. Since our regeneration, no other mystery so intimately grafts our life upon the eternal world. It is the food of the new creation; the bread of angels; the power of the world to come. To those who believe in no series of supernatural facts linking the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation with the resurrection of the saints, holy 392 sacraments are mere solemnities, expressive rites, or, as some in secret feel, tedious and unmeaning ceremonies. No wonder that natural men lift the heel against the visible sign of an invisible presence, and deride the mystery of a divine incarnation. It is a pride akin to that by which it is believed that angels fell, They would not adore the divine manhood: the faithless will not believe it. To such high hearts our altars must be an empty ritual. To us the blessed Sacrament is substance and life. It reveals to us the glory of redeeming love: “Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Herein is pity, that the Son gave Himself to be born and die; that He came down to us in our flesh; that He comes down to us in His compassion, veiled in a mystery. All His tenderness, patience, pardon, are there. The fulness of His divine love and of His human sympathy draw us to His feet.
Be often, then, before the altar. Let holy communion be, if it may, your daily bread—the holy Sacrament your daily meditation. Look through the transparent forms which for a while hide Him from your sight. Muse upon His presence, His nearness, His indwelling. Exercise your faith, and awaken the conscious affections of your heart towards Him, humbling Himself to you within the 393sphere of your infirmity, that He may exalt you to the kingdom of His glory. Yet a little while, and all veils which hang between heaven and earth shall be taken away, and you shall behold the King in His beauty, not as now “in a glass darkly,” but “then face to face,” when all desires are fulfilled, and all “the pure in heart shall see God.”
END OF THE FOURTH VOLUME.
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