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History of Religious Life
St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Society of Jesus

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

There are three principal sources of Ignatian spirituality. They are the so-called Momumenta Ignatiana - about forty volumes of the writings not only of Ignatius, which are not that much, but the lives of his contemporaries and of all the documentation of the Society of Jesus of the Holy See and between the Society of Jesus and by then Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops throughout the world. Because by the time St. Ignatius died the Society had spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. So the Momumenta are the basic source of all documentation from Ignatius' first entrance on the scene to his death.

The second are the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. These Constitutions have not been changed in four hundred years. So when I'm asked to work with Chapters and I see how cavalier some communities are with their Constitutions, well, I try to restrain them, I try to tell them, "Now look, don't be so eager to change. If a thing is good it's worth keeping."

Pope Paul VI during our last Chapter, we call it General Congregation, in effect told the delegates in Rome of the Society of Jesus to go home before they had finished their job. They were planning to change the Constitutions. The Pope saved the Jesuits from their own folly.

In any case these Constitutions have remained in tack. They are the second main source. Notice this is Ignatian spirituality; we are not talking about Jesuit spirituality. Now this is an important distinction, because so far we've had Benedict, Francis and Dominic, and in each case we identify their spirituality with the founder. For the first time we are shifting gears. The Society of Jesus is not called the Ignatians. Ignatius made sure, he forbade under a mighty anathema any Jesuit to ever call himself an Ignatian. And he forbade for all times his Society to be called by any other name than the name of Jesus. In any case, this is an analysis of Ignatian spirituality.

Now there is a Jesuit spirituality. There is a very good book entitled "The Spirituality of the Society of Jesus." This is going beyond St. Ignatius, because Ignatius died four centuries ago and much has happened since his death. The Society of Jesus has developed all kinds of ideas, traditions, what we call the Institute, which is all the decrees of the thirty-two General Chapters since St. Ignatius. We don't have them automatically every four or six year; we have a meeting every three years of delegates from every province, but their purpose is to decide whether there should be a General Chapter. We just had one last September. They voted that we don't need a General Chapter. So Chapters come on an average of once in every fifteen years. Under one of our late Generals, Father Lahouski, there was no Chapter for about twenty-five years. A different approach. So there is a Jesuit highly structured and complex spirituality. I am not lecturing on Jesuit spirituality. The spirituality of the Society of Jesus should be Ignatian and if it's authentic it's Ignatian. The Jesuit spirituality is for Jesuits, Ignatian spirituality is for everybody, even as Franciscan, Dominican and Benedictine are the heritage of the Church and meant for all the people of God.

So the Constitutions being the composition of St. Ignatius are the second major source of the spirituality of St. Ignatius. And thirdly, the Spiritual Exercises, which as you know he first composed - rough fashion- at Manressa during the time that he spent in a cave meditating on his sins, doing penance, planning his future. During which time he was especially visited by Our Lady, and for a long time he thought of calling it the Society of Mary. She was the one who told him, "No; call it the Society of Jesus."

Second, the significance for the whole Catholic world and by now many others besides Catholics throughout the world. Ignatius marks the beginning of what we call apostolic religious life in the modern world. Notice we are victims ofour own vocabulary; we don't mean, we cannot mean that before Ignatius communities were not apostolic; we rather mean in the sense just described, that until Ignatius came on the scene there wasn't the idea of creating communities that would not be somehow basically identified with the life of contemplation and prayer, where you would as it were carry your union with God outside of the cloister. Ignatius was the one who saw that something had to be doneto make religious much more available, much more mobile, much more adaptable than so far, he thought, they had been. It was because of his understanding of religious life that women's communities that were not contemplative in the sense in which we now understand contemplative - under solemn vows, came into existence. So apostolic here means communities whose primary purpose is not cloistered contemplation.

Ignatius founded a religious Order, which therefore had solemn but along with simple vows. In other words, he decided that some of his men would take solemn vows and as it turned out the majority would take simple vows. He did not want any women in the Jesuit Order, and this has remained intact for four centuries. Any number of prominent and sometimes aggressive women religious foundresses wanted to start a women's branch of Jesuits and they often got very far. But by that time the Jesuit Generals would have Masses said and all kinds of things to protect the Society of Jesus from what was considered a calamity should the Jesuits ever go female. It is the only Order in the Church that has in four centuries resisted the well-intentioned, persuasive, sometimes very holy attempts of women to become Jesuits. The nearest thing to a success was Mary Ward. Read her life, a fascinating story.

You might ask why. Well, we like to think it was under Divine inspiration. But practically speaking, Ignatius had some sad experiences with women, first before his conversion - on which we turn the page. But after his conversion women helped him in many ways; he counseled them; but they caused him no end of trials. Among which was being hailed to court by a woman benefactress who until he decided that he couldn't give her the kind of time that she wanted she always signed herself "your spiritual daughter." But once he told her that he couldn't give her the time that she wanted, at first she couldn't believe it. She reminded him, "Do you know how much money I gave you?" "Yes”, he said, "I do." "Well, either you give me the spiritual direction that I want or I want my money back."

In any case, one of the most fascinating lives of Ignatius has recently been put into English. Read it; it is sobering narrative, "St. Ignatius and Women" - five hundred pages of fascinating stories.

In order, therefore, so we believe, to insure that the Society of Jesus would be free to do its work, and not as others, take for example the Vincentians. They are required by rule to direct the Sisters of Charity. The Daughters of St. Paul have the Fathers of the Society of St. Paul. What Ignatius did, however, in spite of the fact that there are no women Jesuits or Jesuiteses, it was Ignatius, ironically, who brought into existence all religious institutes of women since his day. Except for him, you might say that women had their vengeance! They were allowed by the Holy See to borrow just unscrupulously from his writings, and the Holy See approved the foundations. Sometimes when I read the Constitutions of some communities of women - well, I haven't had the heart to say it - except for the change in gender, it's my rule.

Having introduced simple vows, he opened the door for communities, and the number now is over one million in women's communities under simple vows in the Catholic Church. Before Ignatius there were none.

Third, the Society of Jesus which he founded, he made sure it was approved by the Council of Trent. He knew he was innovating and he wanted to make sure that no one could ever fault the official character of the approval of his Order.

Fourth, through his spiritual son Xavier, Ignatius began the modern missionary movement. Ignatius no sooner received the last vows of Xavier then he dispatched him to India. Xavier never came back; after baptizing some one hundred people in India, he wore himself out and opened the door to missionary work throughout the world. To this day the largest missionary Order in the Church is the Society of Jesus.

Then the establishment of schools taught by religious. St. Dominic, as you know, had started the tradition. But Dominic's schools were for the most part those geared to the upper grades, directed more to those who were to be leaders in society and had already shown some promise because of their talent. Ignatius founded what in Italy is called Collegi - lower grades. In any case, Ignatius spread himself and his men far and wide on any level, believing that it was necessary to run the school and put it under religious auspices, so that the whole person would be trained and not just the mind.

Finally, what he did was to lay the basis for apostolic women's communities. I repeat, the word apostolic is the unfortunate word we are stuck with; because those who remained in the original tradition of the cloistered women's communities call themselves contemplative and the name apostolic or active came to be applied to others who were not like them.

Now the distinctiveness. There are ten distinctive features of Ignatian spirituality, each created by the new era which dawned with the sixteenth century. It was, as we know, the beginning of the age of discovery. It was the dawn of industrialism. It was also the dawn of the age of literacy. Printing was discovered in the second half of the fifteenth century. Books came into existence with about the year 1500. All of these factors - brand new. All writers with rare exceptions, speak of the sixteenth century as the beginning of the modern world as distinct from the world before it as we briefly identified that world.

But the one feature that most contributed to the distinctiveness of Ignatian spirituality is the rise of a rival Christianity, otherwise known as Protestantism. What then was the first distinctive feature? The stress on loyalty to the Papacy. It was not for nothing that Ignatius required those of his men who took solemn vows to add four other simple vows. The first of which was a special vow of obedience to the Vicar of Christ. Second, a vow of never changing the poverty of the Order except to make it more strict. So when I talk, as I do, a lot about poverty and peoples sometimes think it is coming out of their ears, I don't tell them, but I'm just fulfilling my vows, I'm just selling poverty to other people besides myself.

The third vow besides the solemn vow is to never seek or accept unless under formal obedience and pain of mortal sin from the Pope, any dignity in the Church: we are forbidden under pain of mortal sin to become bishops. And the fourth vow to protect the third - we are bound under sin to resist every effort to advance us in the Church. Consequently what Ignatius wanted was men highly trained; but he knew that trained people, educated people tend to be proud people; he wanted to make sure that they stayed humble; he did what he could to keep them that way.

So the first distinctive feature is special loyalty to the Vicar of Christ, to the Pope. Second, freedom. The second distinctivefeature of Ignatian spirituality is a stress on human liberty. Now as we see, both the first and the second distinctive feature was created spontaneously by the Protestants, who called the Vicar of Christ the most unprintable names of which the least was the dragon, satan and others. No matter what Protestantism today may hold, and as you know Protestants are either better than their tradition or worse: they either rise above in the direction of the heritage which they lost and become more Catholic or they become less Christian. But the essence of Protestantism is the denial of human freedom. Ignatius stressed freedom to such an extent that he would redefine divine grace as God's invitation to human liberty.

Third feature: the stress on the sacraments as instituted by Christ; because the reformers denied all but two of the sacraments - Baptism and the Lord's Supper; and even those two, though they call them sacraments, had by that time denuded them of any sound meaning. So the sacraments, in order to obtain grace, without which a person cannot be saved.

Fourth feature: obedience. Obedience within the Order was so fundamental that on it everything else depends. The Society of Jesus is now going through its worst crisis. We've lost ten thousand men and the end is not in sight. Only God knows what this has cost many of us. For me in began in 1957. One of our men came back to the faculty to teach theology. Two months after he joined the faculty I said to myself, "A new day has dawned." In any case, the reason for our problems can all be summarized in one word: disobedience. And the reason is because we've got such phenomenon freedom. My superiors give me extraordinary liberty; but it must be balanced with obedience.

Last year my provincial told me he was not sure I should continue teaching in the East. After a conference he told me I could continue. The Daughters of St. Paul have started a new college in Boston - St. Paul's College. I've been asked to join their faculty, and I've been teaching them five days a month forthe past year. I was in Boston last weekend, I'm in Chicago this weekend. And they wanted me to be in Boston. I knew my provincial had some reservations about my being in the East last year, so I got in touch with him; he was in India. I talked to the assistant provincial and he said he would call me back as soon as he talks to my provincial. He said, "Stay in the East." I said, "Thanks. Tell him I'll say a rosary for him," and I hung up. No speeches, but you remain obedient.

So obedience and that because whatever else Protestantism did it canonized individualism; that's our problem in America. And you cannot have a community without obedience, except in name.

Fifth feature: Efficiency in the apostolate. It was in this context that Ignatius created the motto of the Society of Jesus: Ad majorem Dei gloriam. The glory of God, as we've seen in previous context, means the knowledge, love and service of God by His creatures. But the operative word is majorem - the greater, with a stress on the comparative degree. Ignatius was always asking, not what can I do for Christ? but what more can I do? Is there some way that I can be more successful, more effective, more efficient? Now this is the principle of priority in the Society of Jesus. There are many priorities, but on this level the priority of choosing always the more effective means; find out how you can do this with less time, more efficiency and reach more people.

This is why the Society of Jesus from its very beginning went into writing, publishing. The first author of the Society of Jesus was St. Peter Canisius. If I can reach more people by the written word than by the spoken, then I will not stop speaking, but I will also write. And now just within the last few weeks we have organized what we are calling "The Catholic Voice of America." There are three of us: Father Morton Hill, the director of Morality in Media - to protect the media from pornography; he's been in this for some twenty years; and Father Kenneth Baker, editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and myself are now the three directors of a new corporation called "The Catholic Voice of America." We are planning to buy - and we have been in contact with wealthy and dedicated Catholic lay leaders in New York - planning to buy radio stations. Protestants in America have six hundred radio stations exclusively devoted to religion. The Catholic Church does not have one. Isn't that a scandal! In any case, for Ignatius, organization, structure, planning.

Sixth feature. Minimum monastic duties. St. Ignatius, otherwise than Dominic, did not wanthis Order to be monastic. He obtained for us what was a major innovation then, exemption not from the Divine Office, but from the common choral recitation or singing of the Divine Office. I say my Office every day but privately.

Seventh: Stress on the Person of Christ as the exemplary cause of sanctity. Christ for Ignatius was not only the Savior of the world, He is the Sanctifier of the world; and while the sanctification comes through the grace of His Spirit, the pattern for that sanctity is the life of Christ. That's why the Spiritual Exercises are mainly the life of Christ.

Eighth: There is in Ignatian spirituality a great emphasis on logic; things are supposed to hold together. In the Spiritual Exercises there is a relationship of part to part which can be expressed actually in mathematical terms. No doubt it is, at least humanly speaking, part of his military background - strategy, planning, working things first out on paper; you don't just go out to battle; you plan to reduce the casualties and to maximize the influence.

Ninth. For Ignatius the world was not something bad to be run away from or shunned or even per. se opposed. It was a world that was to be used as a means of saving souls.

Finally, education. No religious Order in the Church has had as much demand for education as those whom Ignatius founded. It has created endless problems that only we know. But he felt that among the creatures that should be used in the interest of the Kingdom of Christ is the mind. This no doubt was in large measure conditioned by the massive ignorance among the leaders of the Church and the faithful. Knowledge by itself is not salvific; but knowledge joined with grace can be salvific. And he stressed the importance not just of knowledge but sound knowledge, true knowledge.

For example, his rules for thinking with the Church. First two: "We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever prompt and ready to obey in all things the true spouse of Christ Our Lord, our holy Mother the hierarchical Church." What he recognized is that if the mind is such a powerful instrument in the apostolate, it will be only as effective as it is humble; and the humility is shown by obedience to the Church's magisterium. The source of all problems in the Society of Jesus is our pride of intellect and the very fact that we are so highly trained. I had thirty-one years of formal education before I began to teach theology. Thirty-one years in anybody's chronology is a long time. But a mind thus developed must remain a humble mind. A proud mind is an instrument of the devil. When I see religious or priests, no matter what other qualities they may have, but I see them proud, if they'd let me, I'd tell them, "In God's name, get some humility!" And if they don't because they won't allow me or because they are not in such contact with me or I with them, then I oppose them. I oppose every proud mind, because a proud mind is an enemy of Christ.

Stupidly we ask for a high IQ, all kinds of natural gifts, and with further stupidity we give these people training, education, spend tens of thousands of dollars on them without a thought that we are shoveling coal into a mind already burning with pride.

At any rate, education, but combined with humility. So much for the distinctive features.

Now the doctrinal principle: That God became man to teach man to become like God through man's cooperation with grace. In other words for Ignatius God of course became man to redeem mankind from sin. In St. Francis there was a stress on Christ the Savior; with Ignatius it was a stress on Christ the Teacher. Now as we know Christ taught not only by word but also and especially by His life. Christ and therefore the Incarnation is meant to teach us in three ways. First by the life that Christ lived teaching us that this man Jesus is the source of all the grace we need. That is a kind of first principle. Because unless we are first assured intellectually, though on faith, that Christ is giving us the grace, people would be afraid even to begin to follow Him. All you've got to do is look up at a tall mountain and you give up before you start: I can't make it.

And the passage in the gospels which identifies this is Christ's statement: "Without Me you can do nothing," to which Ignatius added, "But with Me you can do everything."

Second, that Christ by His practice of virtue not only redeemed the world, because He was humble and obedient, but His humility, poverty, obedience and the rest are models for us to imitate. Christ is the Way.

Thirdly, Christ taught, taught not only what we are supposed to do, but He also taught us how to do it. Now in large measure we might distinguish between what Christ did during His visible stay on earth and what Christ has been doing ever since through His Church. You might say that if sanctity is the goal and Christ is the means, then Christ answers to three questions that the human mind asks in order achieve the holiness that Christ became man to teach us.

First is what we are supposed to do, the second is the why and the third is the how. Now the what and the why, though not exhaustively, are at great length given to us already in the gospels. But the how is especially given to us by Christ through the Spirit that animates the Church. In other words the nuts and bolts' details of sanctity, the recipes, the instructions, the how you do it, that comes to us partly, though minimally, from the revelation that Christ gave to us in His own lifetime; it comes to us especially through His Church, which of course His Spirit animates.

And that's why relative to religious institutes, which is the context in which we are speaking, it is simply unthinkable and theological madness to suppose that a person could by reading the gospels and, no matter how highly motivated or spiritually interested he or she may be, could conceive of a religious community, let alone have it succeed, let still more alone have it achieve what by now religious institutes have done for the people of God unless the how had been provided by the Church. And is this ever practical! Because the Church is not always peopled by Benedicts, Dominics, Francises and Ignatiuses. The real test of faith, on the level of which we are here speaking, is to see Christ still alive in His Church, directly guiding and instructing, and to believe, for example, that if the Constitutions of my community have been approved by the Holy See that I now have an assurance that I am doing the right thing, which unless they had been thus approved I don't have. Of the three hundred and sixty-two women's communities in the United States, my calculated guess – all of them have revised Constitutions - the majority have not had those Constitutions approved by the Holy See. Holy pictures, flowers, fine vellum paper, beautiful print, fine typography, neatly bound, but it's just paper unless the Christ Who is teaching through His Church says, "This is all right and that's not."

So that's the doctrinal principle. Now the main features. Some of these we've touched upon already, some we will expand on. Grace is invitation to our liberty. The reason why Ignatius conceived grace in that way was because grace had been debauched by the reformers. What was grace? Grace was God's favor replacing what man had lost through the fall, mainly his liberty. Because as men like Calvin said, the only grace that man had when he came from the hand of God before he fell was his liberty. When he fell he lost that. So some people are behaving themselves, they'll be saved, they've got the grace. What do you mean they've got the grace? No, they don't have the grace, not in any Catholic sense. God is using them as poems or tools; He is glorifying Himself - that's what the reformers said - through these wicked sinful instruments. Grace invites our liberty, never coerces, but invites.

Second, our life is to be a microcosm of Christ's life. His birth, His life, His suffering, His death, His resurrection are to be a pattern of ours.

Fullness of religious life along with the apostolate. That, as we've been saying was a major development. You can engage in all kinds of active work in the world. This is the thing that is being threatened far and wide. What are we being told?

Yesterday at the funeral that I attended, this priest who had amassed a wealth - he had a great deal of wealth before he became a priest - built a hundred thousand dollar chapel for the community from which then he was buried. What a beautiful piece of architecture! But, sadly, the community has secularized. When I asked one of the administrators how the college was doing, she said, "Well, you know it is no longer a Catholic Institution." It took less than fifteen years to complete the demolition. The logic was that you cannot combine religious life and the kind of work for people that they felt needed to be done. That is an unqualified lie.

And take it from a Jesuit, you can be involved to your neck or just bobbing up every three minutes for air in the world and you can be if you want to be closely united with God. We've got to believe this! It is not either totalcloistered contemplation or total immersion in the world and no religious life; it is not the one or the other. And the more demanding the world is, that's why I distinguished from the beginning Ignatian spirituality for all of us. But we had better be united with God! And don't tell me it's easy. I know when I'm dead tired and I want to spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament at 12.20 A.M. I can't sit down even kneel down because I would fall asleep; so I walk around. The first thing I do when I enter my room, I close the door and kneel down and kiss the crucifix on the edge of my desk. It can be done.

The apostolic religious life must be organized. The organization that I'm stressing, here is not merely, though also, to make that work more efficient for the greater glory of God, it is also that I will be able to live a contemplative life in the world. If I don't organize my life, you know exactly what is going to happen: the last thing you do will be the prayer and by that time you'll be so dead you'll say, "I'm excused from saying my prayers." So it's organizing the apostolate in order that this union with God will be maintained; because that's first, that's the life.

Catholic spirituality is ecclesial. We are apostolic only to the extent to which we are Catholic. In other words it's the Church, and not just the Church directing our Constitutions. What are the needs in the Church? What did the Church say? The Second Vatican Council is for us the modern Church telling us what she wants. In any case, to make sure that our spirituality is based on what the Church teaches. People will have read a dozen commentaries before they'll read what the Church actually taught. I admit reading the Church's documents is not the kind of literature that we would sit up reading and find hard to put down. It takes effort; it's raw meat; but we need to know what the Church teaches. A faithful reading weekly of the Observatory Romano would be a good mortification for a lot of people.

Loyalty to the Vicar of Christ is essential. In other words either we are united with the Pope or we are not united with Christ.

Finally, the kingdom of Christ is to be extended. For Ignatius, the second motto besides ad majorem Dei gloriam is ad veniat regnum tuum-- Thy Kingdom come. Most of the human race is not even Christian, and even among Christians, look at some of us! We don't have to go to Calcutta or Times Square in New York to see the misbehavior of Christians. In other words, Christ's Kingdom has not yet arrived in the sense that it is not yet complete.

The program of conversion and continued dedication. This is really a synthesis of the Spiritual Exercises. This part of Ignatian spirituality is if you wish the motivation that should guide the apostle. It always begins with the person himself first realizing why we were created. We were created, as Ignatius says, to praise, reverence and serve God and by this means to save our souls. That I must believe and put into practice myself, and in the apostolate I'm supposed to do the same thing for others: help them to know what God's will is, love Him in doing it, and serve Him and thereby be saved.

Then many meditations on the principal mysteries on Christ's life. There are fifty together along with some key meditations around which the Exercises are woven. Having made the Exercises twice for thirty days, you are a changed person; you either leave the retreat, you give it up, it's too much or you fall in love with Christ and your life is no longer the same. Even after the Novitiate your vocabulary changes. And the more inspired you were to give yourself to God when you first entered, the more you discover, that there is only one reason why all of this that you have already done that the only reason is a person and that Person's name is Jesus. And the smarter you are the more satisfied you become that it all makes sense once you are convinced that this Jesus is God.

Remember, this is not just in the Spiritual Exercises, it is meant for all of our lives; we are to regularly, follow this secret: first the knowledge of the purpose; second motive - why, and that motive of course is Christ; and then make the decision, and the decision is whatever plan I adopt in order to fulfill my purpose in following Christ. This little formula is not meant for only a lifetime decision making. The secret is to habitually dispose oneself to first use the mind. Think it out. What does God want you to do? Second, place yourself in the presence of Christ and ask yourself: What would Christ do in these circumstances? How does He want me to behave? And then with the knowledge in the mind, the motivation in the heart, I'm ready to undertake any task. And this by the way should be done every day. Every day when we examine our conscience we should do three things. St. Ignatius made examination of conscience essential to sanctity. In his estimation no one can grow in holiness unless they make at least a once daily examination of conscience. He examined his conscience seven times a day; he prescribed on his followers twice a day. And he would exempt a person who was ill from even attending Mass or making a meditation, but unless they were dying, never from examining the conscience.

When you examine you do three things: you ask what I'm supposed to do; think it out; second, why should I do it? Thirdly, how in practice; decide and then don't go back on your decision. Now that decision making process has five key meditations. There was first the call of Christ, which by the way is extended to every human being in greater or less measure. Always Christ the King: Christus Rex, Christus Dux. Second, the contrast that Ignatius makes between the two leaders in the world - Christ and Satan. Each he says have their followers; each make their demands; each form an army; and each must work together with their leader.

Then the three classes of potential followers. The last two steps: the three degrees of humility and the choice of one's state of life or the election are the peak of the Exercises. I ask myself: How generous am I in following Christ? St. Ignatius is very realistic. Try to remember this: For Ignatius, the degree of my generosity with God is not my emotion or my feeling, it is the grace that I believe God is offering me. It is nothing to do with my strength or my knowledge or my ability or equipment. It has everything to do with the grace I believe God is giving me. And the levels of that grace are first the willingness to avoid mortal sin. Second is the willingness to avoid venial sin. And after years of theological reflection and all kinds of nuances, the third and highest level of humility or generosity is the willingness to suffer, to follow Christ in suffering, where no sin is involved. And of course there is no logic left on that level; you are in the realm of pure faith. My motive for wanting to follow Christ in suffering is because that's what God became man to do for me. God came into the world to die; He was born that He might be able to suffer and endure. And if He had joy set before Him and He chose the cross, on this level I will choose the cross. And the best part is if I really make the choice, honestly, I can enjoy the enterprise. And once you enjoy suffering you've made it.

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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