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W. C. WHITE
Mrs. White, in reflecting upon the early period of denominational history noted that when a message from the Lord was given, she and her husband consulted with the "leading brethren" if they were present, "as to the best manner of bringing the instruction before the people." W. C. White, in his understanding of the nature of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy, likewise considered that a significant role pertaining to that gift was relegated to the church leadership. He quoted his mother as saying, "I have done my part. I have written out what the Lord has revealed to me. Now it is for you to say how it shall be used." W. C. White considered this as entirely reasonable since the church leadership "were in contact with all the problems pertaining to the cause of present truth." He continued:
It was a wise provision of heaven that they should share in the responsibility of saying how and in what manner the messages should be placed before whom they were intended to benefit.84
Sometimes, according to W. C. White, Mrs. White herself could not, or would not, explain or interpret a certain testimony. W. C. White quoted her as saying, "I can not explain it; you should understand it better than I. If you do not understand it, pray to the Lord, and He will help you." W. C. White cited an example where that methodology was not used and the leadership misapplied a testimony for "six or eight years" until the Lord gave another vision to Mrs. White. W. C White believed that the gift of prophecy was not designed to inhibit the leadership or membership from exercising its responsibilities in "prayerfully carrying forward the work." He believed that because that responsibility was left with them "those who carried the responsibilities of leadership were ever made stronger in their work rather than dependent upon the Lord's messenger.85
In responding to a statement written by R. A. Underwood on the spirit of prophecy in 1921, W. C White outlined his concept of the relationship between the spirit of prophecy and the Bible. He emphasized that there was a marked difference between the Biblical writers and Mrs. White. White considered that the Bible was a "collection of inspired writings winnowed." He elaborated by stressing that the testimonies contained "many writings which correspond to the writings of prophets and scribes that were essential to the people of God when given but which did not find place in the cannon of scripture." White seems, in this draft of a response to Underwood to emphasize that the nature of the inspiration of Ellen White, while similar to that given certain Biblical prophets, is different in that it would have a more limited application. Still, he affirmed, the Holy Spirit, after the close of the Scriptures, would continue to shed light not only upon Biblical teachings, but also in matters of "organization, policy, and activities, in the closing work." The spirit of prophecy, according to White, could bring unity to the church because of the degree of authority it also maintained on questions of doctrine.86
In his consideration of the contextual relationships of the spirit of prophecy writings, such ingredients as the historical background, the status of denominational work at the time, the nature of the recipient of the testimony, and the possibilities of testimonies to be given or withheld depending upon varying circumstances entered into the thinking of W. C. White. He noted that Mrs. White "often stated" that God had never commissioned her to write proverbs and thus her writings, "to be properly understood" had to be read in their contextual setting. According to W. C. White, his mother expressed concern over the dual problems of the unwise use made of testimonies that no longer applied because of changed circumstances and the opposite difficulty of the church suffering if relevant counsel was not available in time of need. W. C. White believed that the counsel contained in the tract "The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church" provided guidelines between both those extremes.87
A major episode involving W. C. White occurred during the 1913 Fall Council and concerned the question of context as well as the problem of "inspired" and "uninspired" portions of the spirit of prophecy. The contextual aspect concerned the use of a testimony by James Edson White that was given under different circumstances than when he applied it. The question was also raised if that testimony should be considered inspired and if so should it be given the same authority as the testimonies published in Volume 9 with which it seemed to conflict. While W. C. White considered the testimony as authentic and thus inspired, his refusal to classify it or to give it the same status as the published testimonies caused widespread discussion.88
Concerning the disputed testimony, White wrote Daniells:
It might be much easier to repudiate a few documents that perplex us, and say they were forgeries, but it is the truth that makes us free, and I do not know of any way in harmony with the law of God than to deal with these matters just as they are.
He asserted that he could not attempt to classify the spirit of prophecy writings and he believed that Daniells knew the reason why. W. C. White reminded Daniells of those times in the past when counsel came to the church leadership without any clear indication that it was based upon revelation. Often, however, it transpired that the leadership later learned that the counsel had, indeed, been based upon direct revelation or was later reinforced by direct revelation. White continued:
You know that if we had undertaken at any time in the past to draw a line between counsel based upon revelation and definite testimony regarding duty, that we should have been obliged to revise our opinion many times. It was with these facts in mind that I refused, at the Council, to express any opinion regarding the classification of the Watson letter. And yet it is reported that I said it was not testimony.89
White believed that confusion resulted at the Council because some considered that only direct revelation constituted testimony. This was not W. C. White's understanding of the nature of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. He wrote Daniells in 1913:
It has always seemed to me that in Mother's writings, as in the writings of Paul and other Bible writers, that there was a simple statement of history, a statement regarding Christian experience, arguments regarding Bible doctrine, and counsel to individuals and to churches; also the relation of revelations from God, and all these united constituted Paul's testimony to the church.
White restated this again in 1915:
I have sometimes said that I did not understand that all testimony was [revelation] inspiration, and I referred to the writings of the apostle Paul. Some was history, some revelation, some exhortation, and some argument. He did not claim that all he wrote was the record of revelations from heaven; but all his writings together constituted his testimony to the church, and I have regarded Mother's writings in a similar way.
While White clearly differentiated between Ellen White speaking on personal matters and her writings that were sent out as testimonies, some at the 1913 Council believed that certain items had been sent as testimonies that were not to be so regarded. W. C. White did not agree to that, he asserted, "because I did not believe it." He also disputed the statement frequently attributed to him: "It is evident that there must be a line drawn somewhere in mother's writings," and asserted that he could not draw such lines "because I know not where to draw them."90
W. C. White still looked back to the 1913 episode in 1921 and recalled that a union conference president inquired if the disputed testimony should be regarded the same as published testimonies. White noted that he said, "no," and would still say the same. He noted:
Many things that mother has written which are true she did not deem it advisable to publish. There is a difference in the breadth of application. As a result of this conversation, the brother to whom I was speaking carried the word that I said that the letter was not testimony. In this he erred.91
Amongst those dismayed by such reports was J. W. Watt, a minister for 34 years. According to Watt, a union conference president who conducted a canvassers' institute in Watt's area of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, drew a logical conclusion from the concept that "all that Mother had written was not testimony." That president informed the believers in Pennsylvania, reported watt, that Mrs. White's statement on the meat question "was not testimony, but only her own opinion." Watt wondered how "we small guns" could deal with the health reform question when higher officials recommended the membership to "eat all the flesh you desire," as long as it was not pork. Watt also wondered about the testimony that indicated that cheese should not be used. The union president seemed able to handle that question by refusing to recommend the early volumes of the testimonies to the believers. The president also informed Watt that "if you take the position that the testimonies are inspired like the Bible you will bring the curse down upon you spoken of in the book of Revelation of adding to the word."92
In relating to questions concerning the spirit of prophecy and health reform, W. C. White consistently outlined the progressive experience of Mrs. White and the denomination and referred to the historical circumstances that related to the counsel given. Indeed, he applied this likewise to other areas. He wrote the following to F. M. Wilcox in 1921:
You will remember that [Mrs. White] has been very emphatic in her condemnation of drugs, and when pressed for a definition as to what constituted drugs, she has said, "Poisonous drugs." Mother has been emphatic in her condemnation of fiction, and when pressed to define what she referred to as fiction, she has always spoken of those works of fiction which lead the mind away from God. With these things in mind, I suppose we may understand her condemnation of fiction to refer to those works of fiction which lead the mind away from heavenly things. When we read what she has written about drugs, we may consider it as applying to poisonous drugs. When we read her condemnation of cheese, we may consider it as applying to unhealthful cheese. If there is any purely, strictly, and unmistakably healthful cheese, it may not come under this condemnation. . . . It seems to me that the food analysts and the doctors ought to lend a hand, if we are to attach some qualifying phrases to mother's condemnation of cheese.93
Perhaps W. C. White's most detailed response to a question relating to health reform principles was given to a Loma Linda student who was preparing a paper on the consistency of the teachings in the testimonies on health reform. White noted that some considered the statements in Volume 3, p. 21, to be out of harmony with Volume 9 relative to the questions of butter, milk and eggs. White pointed out:
That which mother wrote in Testimonies, Volume 9 was intended by her to present to the people the best light she had on the subject, after many years of experience and many years of study of the warnings which the Lord had given to her in the earlier years of her experience in the health reform.
He emphasized such considerations in the early period as having to "choose the lesser of two evils," lack of sterilization techniques, non-examination of cattle for tuberculosis: "Therefore there existed in the milk and in the butter of those days much tuberculosis which was greatly endangering the health of the people who ate it." Under the circumstances of those days, Mrs. White, on occasion, recommended the use of meat to those having particular problems. White noted:
In the later years, since our leading physicians have so fully studied this matter and so fully developed a system of diet that is a perfect substitute for meats, mother has never advised the use of meat, even though she was urged to do so by persons of large influence and of large information regarding medical affairs.94
White explained the historical context to the statement in Volume 3, p. 21: "We bear positive testimony against . . . butter." Compounding the problem of tuberculosis germs in butter, Adventists, in their efforts to avoid lard and other fats, turned to the use of butter and sugar and, in avoiding meats, adopted the practice of having from three to seven fried foods at a meal. Mrs. White received a vision concerning these practices and she "bore a positive testimony against . . . butter." White considered the statement as "a historical statement regarding the testimony which she was bearing in the churches east and west." He continued:
Still later on, when conscientious physicians testified that after very faithful investigation and study, they had become satisfied that sterilized butter was a better fat for many people than any of the vegetable oils, mother accepted their work and their testimony, and did her best to present in her later writings the clearest and best light she had upon the subject Personally, I feel free to walk in the light of these later counsels.95
F. M. Wilcox, in 1915, prepared a manuscript dealing with the spirit of prophecy. The manuscript, which was submitted to W. C. White for criticism, contained the observation, "Sister White has not been set in this church as a historian or as a theologian." White observed that the statement was "undoubtedly true" in the technical usage of the terms, but feared that the statement might create an erroneous impression. He suggested the following substitute:
Sister White, as a teacher of sacred truth, has not been led to a technical treatment of theological questions, but has given such views of the love of God and the plan of salvation, and of man's duty to God and to his fellow men, that when presented to the people, they arouse the conscience, and impress upon the hearer the saving truths of the Word of God. .She says, 'The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed.'
In the technical sense of the word, Sister White is not a historian. She has not been a systematic student of history and chronology, and she has never intended that her works should be used to settle controversies over historical dates. But as one who relates history, one 'in whose work the character and spirit of an age is exhibited in miniature,' she is a historian whose works teach valuable lessons from the past for the present and the future.
White had reacted similarly several years earlier when a writer for Southern Watchman used Great Controversy as evidence to prove certain historical questions. W. C. White noted that Mrs. White objected to the use of her writings as authority "regarding the details of history or historical dates."96
On the question of Mrs. White's use of historians, W. C. White asserted:
I have overwhelming evidence and conviction that [the writings] are the description and delineation of what God has revealed to her in vision, and where she has followed the description of historians or the exposition of Adventist writers, I believe that God has given her discernment to use that which is correct and in harmony with truth regarding all matters essential to salvation. If it should be found by faithful study that she has followed some expositions of prophecy which in some detail regarding dates we cannot harmonize with our understanding of secular history, it does not influence my confidence in her writings as a whole any more than my confidence in the Bible is influenced by the fact that I cannot harmonize many of the statements regarding chronology.
White noted that the visions given Mrs. White concerning historical events usually contained no geographical or chronological setting. Not only did she obtain that perspective by reading historical works, but in so doing, said White, "there was brought vividly to her mind scenes presented clearly in vision, but which were through the lapse of years and her strenuous ministry, dimmed in her memory." He also noted that Mrs. White, aware of her lack of education, admired the presentations of others of "the scenes which God had presented to her in vision." He continued:
She found it both a pleasure and a convenience and an economy of time to use their language fully or in part in presenting those things which she knew through revelation and which she wished to pass on to her readers."97
White emphasized that his mother was not dependent upon historical research in writing the historical elements of her books. He stated:
Of this you may be sure because I know whereof I speak. Her use of the language of the historians was not for the sake of bringing into the book something that had not been revealed to her but was an effort to utilize in the best language she could find, the description of scenes presented to her.
Thus White believed that (1) the basic framework of the historical works was established by vision, (2) her study of the Bible and histories enabled Mrs. White to fill in certain details, (3) the revelations given Mrs. White enabled her "to select and appropriate that which was true and to discard that which was erroneous or doubtful."98
Although W. C. White recognized the fallibility of Mrs. White, even to the extent of her fallibility "in stating things revealed to her," he seemed to studiously avoid stating that a specific published spirit of prophecy statement was in error. He no doubt feared that some :night conclude that the statement in question was thus not to be taken as inspired. Concerning the conflicting statements published between 1864 and 1874 dealing with the question of whether God or Eve mentioned death as the consequence of merely touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, White stated:
It is reasonable to suppose that the statement found in the later writings gives the most correct expression to the views opened up to Sister White in vision. In her earliest writings there are found a few statements which indicate that the vision was imperfectly understood, or imperfectly described.
Regarding the revision in Patriarchs and Prophets as to whether there were nine or seven generations living contemporaneously for hundreds of years, he noted:
At one time mother's attention was called to the fact that there were nine generations contemporaneous, and many of the nine generations contemporaneous for hundreds of years, but not every one of the nine generations contemporaneous for so long a time. Then she instructed us to change the statement to seven. What circumstance led to the less accurate statement in the early editions of the book, was never made known to me.
By using such terms as "most correct expression," or "less accurate statement," W. C. White seemed to purposely avoid the implications of the word "error."99
In the statements relating to the 1911 revision of Great Controversy, neither Ellen White nor her son considered the revisions in the same light as did Prescott. Mrs. White stated:
When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.
As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined, and approved.
In discussing the revision, W. C. White referred to word changes because of availability of more accurate translations of historical sources, usage of more recent sources necessitated by an inability to locate and thus verify sources previously used, changes of different expressions to avoid giving unnecessary offense. White noted, "In each of these places the more accurate form of expression has been duly considered and approved by the author." In dealing with certain substantive changes, where certain statements in the original edition were strongly disputed by Roman Catholic scholars, W. C. White quoted his mother as follows:
What I have written regarding the arrogance and the assumptions of the papacy is true. Much historical evidence regarding these matters has been designedly destroyed; nevertheless, that the book may be of the greatest benefit to Catholics and others, and that needless controversies may be avoided, it is better to have all statements regarding the assumptions of the pope and the claims of the papacy stated so moderately as to be easily and clearly proved from accepted histories that are within the reach of our ministers and students.100
One can gain some understanding of the deep involvement of W. C. White with the denominational debate on the "daily" by merely totaling the pages of his letters to some of the participants. He wrote his brother a 20-page letter in June of 1909. The next year Daniells, P. T. Magan, and Washburn received letters of 11, 23, and 36 pages respectively. White believed the statement in Early Writings pertained to the prophetic periods relating to the "daily" rather than to the character of the "daily" itself. He arrived at this support of the "new view" because of his belief that an understanding of the contextual background of the statement was overwhelmingly vital to understanding it. He believed that that principle should generally be applied to his mother's writings. White considered it relevant that his mother had written much concerning the importance to the Advent movement of the 2300-year prophecy, while, the nature of the "daily" itself was "wholly ignored" in all her writings "except in this one sentence of 35 words, found in the midst of the argument that 'time has not been a test since 1844 and it will never again be a test.' " The context to the statement found in Early Writings to White seemed to involve the entire article in which the statement was originally written, the entire scope of the Ellen White writings on the subject, and the historical background to the original writing.101
White initially conceived of the study of the "daily" as a special opportunity to make a thorough study of Biblical and historical sources and eventually gain a clear understanding of the truth of the prophecy of Daniel 8. He concluded that such seemed to be God's will since the Lord had not chosen to settle the question through a revelation to Mrs. White. He seemed confirmed in that position as a wealth of historical evidence began to be uncovered that related to the broad prophetic periods of Daniel. He was likewise convinced because of the strengthening of the positions relative to the papacy.102
Although White saw positive gains that could be achieved by a search for new light on the "daily," much as had occurred during the searching for truth encouraged by Mrs. White during the 1888 to 1890 period, he also made comparisons to that earlier period that had negative implications. White noted that during that period most believers were not so concerned with the new positions taken on the kingdoms and the law 3n Galatians as they were concerned with the supposed detrimental effect a change of position would have on the denominational influence. White also recalled:
They did not regard the new doctrine itself as of such serious importance, but they believed that the old positions had been sanctioned by the Testimonies, and to make a change would unsettle the confidence of our people everywhere in the Testimonies; and this they regarded as the most serious feature of the whole question.103
While W. C. White tried to maintain objectivity relative to the "pioneer view," he clearly considered those representing that position as the primary aggressors in the debate. He objected to attempts to prevent publication of Conradi's book on Daniel in the Danish-Norwegian and in the United States, he opposed circulating of the O. A. Johnson and L. A. Smith pamphlets at the 1909 GC session, and he opposed the methods used in discrediting the views held by those supporting the "new view." He noted:
Some are so anxious that they keep passing their questions and misgivings on to Mother, and many of these questions are like a snake that has swallowed a rabbit, it bulges out with a great complaint or accusation. The complaints and accusations that have been poured in upon Mother have many of them been presented in such an (sic) one-sided way that "if it were possible" they would "deceive the very elect."104
After the issuance of the L. A. Smith pamphlet that seemed so strongly to discredit the holders of the "new view," W. C. White believed that the Daniells-Prescott response was appropriate. The General Conference officials had been discredited in terms of their influence and their attitudes toward the spirit of prophecy had been seriously questioned. It seemed as though there was no alternative but to respond. White maintained that attitude until a testimony urging silence on the subject of the "daily" reversed his opinion.105
As White analyzed the debate on the "daily" he, as others, looked beyond the theological dispute itself, and hoped that the debate might afford opportunity to resolve certain larger questions. One such question involved the continued circulation of Daniel and Revelation. Even though White was convinced that the historical sources that were uncovered as a consequence of the investigations over the "daily" refuted certain of the teachings in that book, he still favored what he termed a "liberal, open door policy" relative to its circulation. He believed that a book "so valuable in most of its features" should continue to be circulated "until something better should take its place." Conversely, he likewise favored the circulation of Conradi's book, although it took a completely different position on the "daily."106
W. C. White considered two other questions of even greater importance, however. He wrote Daniells in March of 1910:
I have told some of our brethren that I thought there were two questions connected with this ["daily"] matter that were of more importance than the decision which shall be made as to which is most nearly correct, the old or the new view regarding the "daily." The first is, How shall we deal with one another when there is difference of opinion? Second, How shall we deal with Mother's writings in our effort to settle doctrinal questions?
White hoped that a meeting between the main disputants on the "daily" might resolve not only the "daily" question, but also work toward resolving the larger questions.107
Although the meeting proposed by White never occurred, two significant testimonies were sent four months after his proposal to the central figures in the debate: Butler, Loughborough, Haskell, Smith, Gilbert, Prescott, and Daniells. Mrs. White requested that her writings "not be used as the leading argument to settle questions over which there is now so much controversy." In noting that she had no specific instruction from the Lord on the "point under discussion," she again urged that her writings not be used in the debate. The testimony, dated July 31, 1910, was significantly entitled "Our Attitude Toward Doctrinal Controversy." Since Mrs. White ordinarily placed no titles upon testimonies, it seems quite possible that W. C. White placed that significant title on the testimony. The same testimony urged that "important books that have been in print for years" and that had been influential in bringing others into the church, should not be discredited over relatively minor matters. Questions of correction and revision should be referred to those ordinarily in charge of such matters.108
The second testimony, dated August 3, 1910, contained the following relevant statement:
We must blend together in the bonds of Christlike unity; then our labors will not be in vain. Draw in even cords, and let no contentions be brought in. Reveal the unifying power of truth, and this will make a powerful impression on human minds. In unity there is strength.
This counsel, unfortunately, was not applied in the controversy over the "daily."109
It seems apparent that W. C. White during the controversy over the "daily" hoped to find some way of harmonizing the divergent positions. Indeed, he believed that the consequences of a failure could be disastrous to the influence of the spirit of prophecy writings. He urged his brother:
Let us avoid taking such a position as to encourage men in urging upon their brethren personal views of the meaning of certain passages in the Testimonies in a way to cast censure and reproach upon their brethren who do not fully agree with them, and in a way that seems to obstruct the search for truth.
If we fail to stand firmly for correct principles, we may soon be plunged into a condition of things wherein many earnest and radical minds will feel free to select a passage here and a passage there from the Testimonies, and without proper regard to the context and to the teaching of the Bible and other passages in the Testimonies, proceed to teach a mixture of truth and error that is unprofitable to the church.
Let us avoid giving sanction to any man, or group of men, who take a disputed passage in the Testimonies, and putting their view of what it means in the strongest possible light, say that "persons of influence in the denomination" who do not agree with them, "contend that it does not mean what it says," and that their view squarely contradicts the spirit of prophecy. Surely we can not give our approval to such methods of dealing with the Testimonies, and with the brethren.
White deeply regretted that O. A. Johnson, L. A. Smith, Haskell and Gilbert were engaged so actively in "promulgating the doctrine that confidence in the Testimonies must rise or fall, according to the belief of our brethren in the old or the new view of the 'daily.' "110
White made several unsuccessful attempts to have a "brotherly meeting" to deal with the questions. He observed to J. S. Washburn that he believed God permitted such differences to occur to enable a more thorough investigation of truth, and that if such occurred "and if we treat our brethren in Christ's own way, we shall get great good where the enemy hoped to bring in bitterness and division." White, unfortunately, had to inform Stephen Haskell in late 1910:
To this, as to former appeals for our brethren to get together for study and prayer over this matter, there was no favorable response, and the controversy although less open than formerly, has gone steadily forward.111
One might inquire whether we still live in the shadow of the "daily."
F. M. Wilcox enunciated a relevant truth in 1915. That truth had perhaps an even greater pertinence in 1928 when he again expressed it:
Some in the church of God, today as in every age, are inclined to be too fast. Others are inclined to be too slow. God in his providence links the impulsive Peter with those who are more staid and conservative. In the providence of God there are found in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today these varying natures and elements. . . . God permits these various temperaments to be associated in order that each may learn from the other, that the lack of one may be supplied by the abundance of the other.112
W. W. Prescott, whom many placed in the "too fast" category, observed at the Bible Conference:
Truth and error lie right close, side by side, and the reason why error comes up so near is to make us afraid of the truth. Now when error makes us afraid of the truth we back off from the truth and lose it. Now if we can have wisdom enough to have the full benefit of the truth and not swing off over into the error, we are in advance of our position.113
The consequences of individuals searching for truth relative to the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy without the benefit of the perspectives of the denominational community might be seen in the cases of A. T. Jones, J. H. Kellogg, E. J. Waggoner, A. F. Ballenger, L. R. Conradi, W. A. Colcord, and others. It is tragically relevant that all those mentioned answered the basic question posed by C. L. Benson at the Bible Conference by deciding that the spirit of prophecy could be divided into "inspired" and "uninspired" portions. It seems relevant that, in most cases, those who began to make such determinations eventually lost confidence in the spirit of prophecy. It also seems relevant that the apostasies sprang from both viewpoints relative the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy.
Is it not possible that a fruitful dialogue between the two major positions could have answered the Benson questions differently than did Jones and Conradi? The "pioneer position" urged that the writings could not be divided into "inspired" and "uninspired" sections, but seemed to have no real means of dealing with apparent discrepancies. The "new view" position, with its emphasis upon context, offered a means of explaining those apparent discrepancies. Each side seemed to have additional concepts that could have been useful to the other. Sufficient opportunity for a dialogue seemed to be present. Such a dialogue might have refuted the dire prophecy made by J. S. Washburn in 1931:
I do not think the old guard will die now and I am sure. it will never surrender, never cease to stand where it has stood for years in this message. . . . They may seem to be in the minority. They may seem to lack the official standing of those modernists who do not dare to go as far as L. R. Conradi—that is openly and apparently—and may even sign his condemnation papers, but in heart are far down the same road, and agree with his fundamentals, and are heading fast to his ultimate theological destination. Nevertheless the truth must win an eternal victory. Let the issue come, and the sooner the better. There is no compromise or modification or any possibility of fusion of these elements. Between them is an ever widening distance.114
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