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If you want to explain why the pope respects the religious instincts of non-Catholics, read Pio Nono

Nostra Aetate is enough by itself; but if you are anti-Vatican II, have a look at Quanto conficiamur moerore

By on Monday, 11 April 2011

A bust of Pope Pius IX in a Florida museum PA

A bust of Pope Pius IX in a Florida museum PA

Last week, I wrote a piece explaining my view that, as I put it in my headline “To call the Pope’s meeting at Assisi a betrayal of the faith is an utter absurdity”.

This elicited the following response (there were many thousand more words from the same writer, but this was the general gist of it all: “if you really believe that God is pleased with these pagan shindigs, where two popes in succession have emphasised that they are not interested in converting anyone, but are relying on pagan prayers to false gods to achieve world peace…. then you really do need to take a holiday. Try Mecca”. Nice, huh?

The point is that to recognise that men and women of other religions should be respected, and that their spiritual search for a God they have not fully apprehended should be recognised, is in no way to deny the ultimate need for their conversion. Nearly everyone who becomes a Catholic is converted from some other religion, which has been for them a stepping-stone to the fullness of faith which is to be found only in the Catholic Church.

Unless you take seriously what non-Catholics already believe, they will never take the final step towards full communion with the Holy See. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§843) “The Catholic Church recognises in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

I just can’t see the problem with that. It isn’t even an idea which appeared for the first time at the second Vatican Council. It doesn’t in any way deny the fundamental principle that outside the church there is no salvation, extra ecclesiam nulla salus: even Pio Nono accepted that not everyone outside the Church would be damned, that culture and circumstances would be weighed in the balance by God: as he put it in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved…. but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labour in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God.

Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things?”

As he explained in the same encyclical, those who, “Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God … live honest lives… are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin.”

The most recent and the fullest development of this tradition, of course, is to be found in Nostra Aetate, the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: “[The Church] regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” That DOESN’T say that non-Catholic religions are on the same level as the Church: it does say that they may “reflect” the truth. Thus also, Lumen Gentium: “The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines”(LG 8).

My first conclusion about those going on and on and on about the alleged “scandal” of the Pope’s forthcoming meeting with non-Catholics was that the real issue here wasn’t the Assisi meeting at all, but a fundamental hostility to Vatican II and all its works—and especially any text which develops this particular element in the Church’s teaching about itself. Nostra Aetate, of course, was the basis of a major improvement in the Church’s relationship with the Jews, and there have been accusations that the hostility of some so-called “radical traditionalists” to the document has an element of anti-Semitism in it.

I do not make this accusation myself: the SSPX, for instance, absolutely denied any anti-semitism in the aftermath of the affair of Bishop Williamson’s holocaust denials, and I accept this assurance in the absence of (as far as I can see) any hard evidence to the contrary. I did come across this, in a very moving obituary by an SSPX priest, of Archbishop Lefebvre (who was, I have no reason to doubt, a courageous and holy man), in a passage on the Archbishop’s attitude to the Council documents: “Cardinal Bea…was … a decisive instrument of the Judeo-Masonic sect to obtain from the Council the redaction of Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate. Anti-Semitic Paranoia perhaps? But that certainly doesn’t mean that that’s what the archbishop thought.

But all this, frankly, is irrelevant. Vatican II actually turns out not to be the issue at all. The real point is this: don’t think that you can accuse Pope Benedict of a scandalous betrayal of the Church’s teachings about its own unique possession of the fullness of God’s revelation of himself, on the basis of the fact that that he’s prepared to accept that some people who believe non-Christian religions “are able”, in the words of Pio Nono “to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God … knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men”.

Pope Benedict denies absolutely that Vatican II introduced any new teachings that were not already part of the Catholic tradition: and certainly, on the possibility of the salvation of non-Catholics, and on the sincere search for God of many outside its boundaries, he turns out to be dead right.

  • Anthony Murphy

    Exactly the sort of pandering to the catholic taliban I was talking about. If there is a fault in the post-concillior church, it is how much time we have spent holding the hands of those who perform schismatic acts whilst they wail about the rest of us “not bein proper cafflics..iddinit”

  • sincere Catholic

    ‘Pope Benedict denies absolutely that Vatican II introduced any new teachings that were not already part of the Catholic tradition…’

    If the above is true then why use a word like ‘subsists’ instead of the word ‘is’ as in ‘The sole Church of Christ….subsists in the Catholic Church.’ Pope Benedict has since said that subsists is to be taken as meaning ‘is’ in this instance so the teaching officially remains unchanged i.e. The sole Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.

    So why, if the truth is so clear did the writers of the Vatican II document use the word subsists if not to muddy the waters and give a loophole to those who wanted to introduce a new ductrine that the Church of Christ might also subsist elsewhere? Can Bill Oddie or anyone out there give me an honest answer?

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    That’s about as I see it, too, Anthony. Conscience has to be our guide, if only because we cannot all be scholars. Indeed the great majority do not have the leisure or even the ability to try to understand the scholars. Our hope is that God knows this for sure.

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    I’m not sure that personal opinions are irrelevant, Petrus. Didn’t all interpretations of scripture begin as personal opinion? Has all need for interpretation vanished now? Does not our understanding evolve?

  • Anthony Murphy

    I think the point is that although the Catholic church intrinsically retains all the means of salvation offered by the Lord, and hence the Church subsists or survives in her; we do acknowledge that there are means of salvation available outside her visible walls.

  • Anthony Murphy

    I would say the proper context for the interpretation of the bible is within the Church. It is therefore not an individual pursuit, but a corporate one. I encourage Catholic to read the bible. I also encourage solicitude to our fellow Catholics, and the gentle guidence of the magisterium.
    On the matter of evolution I would say no. I would say our doctrine develops. This is a subtle distinction of the Church to ensure that whatever was the intent of a declaration at say year 1000, remains always the intent of that particular doctrine. Hence, we dont evolve the doctrine. What we do is develop doctrine. We have long layed the groundwork for our understanding (making an example here) that the Church is neccessary for salvation, but also we have the concept that people who are invincibly ignorant have no fault. Then we go to Vatican II which develops both themes into a synthesis. (LG16) (LG=Lumen Gentium, one of the 4 constitutions of Vat II)

  • Anthony Murphy

    I dont doubt that. And in fact a Council is not valid unless approved by the Boss. That was not the point. Once the council is validly convoked, it is then the supreme magisterial apparatus.
    Now tell me what I am “making too easy”? You mean you playing games on the internet? You mean you will rant and wail for 30 mins, and then go have a beer with your mates whilst the rest of us have to deal with Mrs. MacRaggety on Sunday morning asking if her daughter is going to hell for being an Anglican? I that what I am making easy for you? How clumsy of me.

  • Anthony Murphy

    Gerard, you and Petrus are proving a point I made on Anna’s blog…the Catholic blogosphere can attract people in a mad race to the most extreme position they can. You and Petrus dont represent Catholic mainstream thought; you represent a very small minority of hardline persons….Thank God!

  • Anthony Murphy

    Since property and other forms of private ownership of external goods contribute to the expression of the personality, and since, moreover, they furnish one an occasion to exercise his function in society and in the economy, it is very important that the access of both individuals and communities to some ownership of external goods be fostered (GS71)
    Worth reading the whole paragraph actually.

  • Louisa

    Mr. Oddie, I don’t understand why you write articles so often that are clearly digs at traditional Catholics. The first Assissi was hugely controversial, and mistakes were probably made. I’m delighted to hear they won’t be praying together, and I trust that the Holy Father will not allow buddhas to be placed on the altar or the like. But as annoying as you might find the people who are convinced Assissi will be a scandal, why focus on them? At least traditional Catholics are Catholic. Why not focus on the outright heresy that is preached on our English churches every Sunday? Why not focus on the complete lack of reverence in so many Masses, or the use of puppets, etc? Why not focus on the priests who disobediently protest the new translation, and keep the faithful from having the traditional Latin mass? Why not focus on the heterodox, not the orthodox, because even if the orthodox are being a pain in the bum, they aren’t the ones who are destroying our Church from within, or raising children who don’t even believe in God much less Catholicism. I respect your writing and a lot of your opinions, and it makes me very sad to see a conservative Catholic like yourself constantly acting like traditional Catholics are some group of far out weirdos when we have so very much in common, and ought to band together to protect our Church from becoming another version of the Church of England, which both you and I left.

  • Anthony Murphy

    Are we not allowed to talk about priestly celibacy?
    Is it not worthy to propose that a limited married clergy might be an option for the future?
    Is that “attacking celibacy”? I hope not, because I am not married yet, so I might be attacking my own state of life. Attacking celibacy indeed.

  • Anthony Murphy

    “Why not focus on the outright heresy that is preached on our English churches every Sunday?”
    I am sorry that has been your experience Louisa…what is the name of the parish and priest. I am happy to write to the bishop for you. Can you tell me exactly what was said?

  • Peter

    All the laity have the RIGHT to the precise liturgy of the Church and all have the DUTY to notify the bishop if the liturgy is not being correctly followed. Don’t complain, report!

  • sincere Catholic

    Your answer is muddled. If the Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Christ and the sole means of salvation then other Churches and religions are clearly not a means of salvation.

    Your muddle is to evade the use of the words Church or religion thus confusing the natural law with these religions. Could you name me one of these ‘means of salvation’ which are ‘outside the visible walls of the Church?’ The C of E perhaps, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Exclusive Plymouth Breathren, Islam? I thought not.

    And why do you use the word ‘visible’ do you believe the Catholic Church has both visible and invisible walls?

  • Louisa

    Anthony, as kind as your offer and comment were, I’m afraid you misunderstood my point. I wasn’t saying Dr. Oddie should start a letter writing campaign to the bishops; I was asking why he seems to single out traditional Catholics when there are so many greater problems in the Church (both numerically and in terms of spiritual seriousness).

  • Anthony Murphy

    No Louisa,
    I am shocked that heresy is being taught in a Catholic parish. What is exactly was said? What was the parish?

  • W Oddie

    This is utter drivel. ALL quotations are by definition “out of context”, that’s the whole point of a quotation. Of course what I’ve quoted isn’t the main point of the encyclical. BUT IT IS A QUALIFICATION OF THE MAIN ARGUMENT: IT’S SAYING THAT WE NEED TO PUT THE MAIN POINT IN THE CONTEXT OF A PARTICULAR WAY OF UNDERSTANDING IT: And Pius IX really thought it important to say that though there was a very grave error entrapping SOME CATHOLICS who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity, there are also those who aren’t catholics (not alienated at all, just not catholics) but who, I repeat, “Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God … live honest lives… are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin.” There’s no wriggling out of that. He said it and he meant it. It’s people like you who are responsible for Pio Nono’s unjust reputation as a narrow-minded bigot.

    And DON’T call me Bill. It’s not my name.

  • Louisa

    I do not feel comfortable exposing good but misguided priests to public censure. It is a matter for the bishops to deal with specific parishes. But to give you some examples, I have been heard that God is a woman, that we do not need to obey parts of the New Testament as written by St Paul, heard aspersions cast on the existence of sin, heard that the Church is not necessary to salvation, I actually heard a priest preach once that Jesus erred by not giving enough preference to women. But still, this is not the point. The point is that I would still like very much to hear Dr Oddie explain why he focuses so much on his dislike of traditional Catholics, when I feel that we and all other orthodox Catholics, who are all united in our one Church, ought to work together, not tear each other down.

  • Petrus

    Anthony,

    The problem is widespread that you’d be writing letters all day. By the way, what do you think the bishop is going to do? When we have bishops in this country allowing “Gay” Masses and Cardinal Schonborn telling youngsters that contraception can be used, I think we can say that the majority of the bishops are more likely to discipline a traditionalist than a heretic!

  • Petrus

    Sorry, WILLIAM, you’re all over the place. If anyone can decipher this ramble, please do!

  • Petrus

    Isn’t it interesting that when someone has lost an argument they resort to insults (“people like you”)? You have misled your readers and you’ve been found out – big time. Did you deliberately miss out the “invincible ignorance”? If so, you should be ashamed. If not, you’re in the wrong job.

    There is nothing bigoted in what Pius IX has written. All Catholics should be filled with holy zeal and do everything they can to lead others out of their false religion. That is true charity. It’s false charity to affirm someone in their erroneous belief.

  • Petrus

    All I am doing is what any faithful Catholic should be doing, defending the Catholic faith. As a baptised and confirmed Catholic, that is my duty.

  • Petrus

    So, was St. Pius X an “extremist”, Anthony? There’s nothing extreme about my position. I am only a Catholic, defending the teaching of the Church.

    However, this is your most accurate post so far. I am not a respresentative of the modern Catholic mainstream and I thank God for it. Remember, this is not a numbers game. The mainstream of the Church were plunged into heresy during the Arian crisis. Only a small band were faithful to the Church, led by St. Athanasius, who accurately remarked, “They have the buildings; we have the faith.” The current crisis is far, far worse than the Arian crisis. So, it’s only by the grace of God that I am part of the small group who still have the faith. Most of the “mainstream” have been led astray by erroneous novelties. God have mercy on them!

  • Petrus

    This is just silly, Anthony. Communism is an evil that has been condemned time and time again. Quite different from monarchy!

  • Petrus

    Pascendi explains why perfectly.

    “18. This will appear more clearly to anybody who studies the conduct of Modernists, which is in perfect harmony with their teachings. In their writings and addresses they seem not unfrequently to advocate doctrines which are contrary one to the other, so that one would be disposed to regard their attitude as double and doubtful. But this is done deliberately and advisedly, and the reason of it is to be found in their opinion as to the mutual separation of science and faith. Thus in their books one finds some things which might well be approved by a Catholic, but on turning over the page one is confronted by other things which might well have been dictated by a rationalist.”

    The Second Vatican Council was the Modernists triumph. St. Pius X knew this would happen. He knew Modernism had only been forced underground and he knew it would come back to haunt the Church. Modernists don’t operate on the periphery of the Church, they do their dirty business right at the centre. Look at this quote from Pascendi:

    “Although they express their astonishment that We should number them amongst the enemies of the Church, no one will be reasonably surprised that We should do so, if, leaving out of account the internal disposition of the soul, of which God alone is the Judge, he considers their tenets, their manner of speech, and their action. Nor indeed would he be wrong in regarding them as the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For, as We have said, they put into operation their designs for her undoing, not from without but from within. Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt. ”

    I urge everyone to read Pascendi. It is the most accurate description of Modernism and is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

  • Anonymous

    Actually no. We’re not allowed to “talk about celibacy” – pope after pope has said it is not up for discussion.

    Personally, as a celibate myself, I find it outrageous that a Cardinal would dare to suggest that child abuse is a result of celibacy. Absolutely outrageous. Especially since, the studies show, we’re told, that much if not most abuse comes from those engaged in sexual relationships, and is perpetrated notably within the home – most likely the superabundance of step-dads raising children in our dysfunctional society.

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    Thank you again, Anthony. I still have many questions, but they can wait for the proper time. (Meanwhile, I will have to research ‘invincible ignorance’ – it probably fits me.)

  • Anthony Ozimic

    “All” may be capable fo being interpreted in the sense of “all types of people”, in the same way that St Thomas interprets the Scriptural verse “God desires all men to be saved” to mean, not “God desires every individual to be saved” but, “God desires all types of men e.g. of all races, eras etc to be saved”.

  • Anthony Ozimic

    You’re correct that it wasn’t intended as a clarification or correction. By clarified I meant “confirmed the meaning of”, as you rightly say. I believe Pius IX to mean, in summary: It’s thereotically possible that people outside the Church can be saved, but because we can’t know to what extent people may be invincibly ignorant, we can’t be optimistic about their salvation.

  • Anthony Murphy

    1) No, I re-red what I told you. There is nothing muddled about it.
    2) I used the word Church twice in one, albiet long, sentence. How is that evading?
    3) I believe that the Catholic Church extends beyond the visible. However; I believe the visible Church is closer to perfection as it sacramentalises our faith in Jesus by explicating membership and therefore koinanea.

  • Anthony Murphy

    I clicked like because you need to soap-box. I just posted from where GS attacks some of the precepts of Communism. Specifically I quoted the section on private ownership. Therefore; you claim that communism is not criticised by Vatican II is false.

  • Anthony Murphy

    Well Petrus, may God have mercy on us all.
    But when you say
    “I am only a Catholic, defending the teaching of the Church”; it seems you mean ‘only those teachings you give personal assent to…not that silly Vatican II’
    Would that be a fair statement?

  • sincere Catholic

    Please tell me, if ‘the Catholic Church extends beyond the visible’ then who might be members of the invisible Catholic Church? Do you think some members of the C of E might qualify? How about Methodists, Quakers, Jehovah’s witnesses, muslims etc.

    What exactly must members of the invisible Catholic Church believe to be members?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-R-Schuh/100001894380487 John R Schuh

    The medieval notion of Limbo, most famously publicized by Dante, can be taken as the Church’s recognition that God saves whom He wills. Most fundamentally, the Church is the baptized, more broadly, those whom he has called. There is no limit to grace, but even within the Church are those who fail to response.

  • Petrus

    Certainly not, Anthony. I use my Catholic sense. I look to Scripture and Tradition. I look at what the Councils and Popes have been teaching consistently and reject anything that contradicts this. A lot of Vatican II directly contradicts the teaching of the Church.

  • Petrus

    You are being very silly now. Show me the mention of Communism… The Church has never danced around issues, not mentioning heresies by nam etc. Communism wasn’t mentioned quite deliberately. Russian Orthodox observers were only allowed to come on the condition that Communism wasn’s denounced. Get a grip, man!

  • Petrus

    Communism is far more sinister that the right to own private property. Go do some reading.

  • Anthony Murphy

    I believe that impicit member of the Church may exist in mormonism, buddhism etc.
    I believe that this is less than the ideal state, and as they step closer to the objective truth, they step closer to explicit membership of the Church.
    I believe that elementa ecclesia exist outside what we acknowledge as holy mother Church.
    Is that fair enough?

  • Anthony Murphy

    You obviously know nothing about Communism if you dont see the direct attack the Church made on it in GS.
    Frankly you are an operating thetan level ‘elf-gnome’ in a emperor-academix world.

  • Anthony Murphy

    So you dont admit you gave a hall pass to Gerard when he said an ecumenical council was trash? So you dont admit your only comment on that question was a rant about “pastoral”!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    You Sir are a hypocrite.
    And let me go further…
    I have spent 3 days on Will’s blog so far, and it seems …
    Will, I am addressing you now..
    You are unworthy to run a Catholic blog. You allow every minority view to florish like a mushroom, and give scant regard to the mainstream-pro Vatican II- pro post-concilior reality. You Will, are being cowardly by not speaking in defence of the communion of the Church!
    I am tempted to leave this forum altogether because you are failing in your duty.
    Prove me wrong.

  • W Oddie

    I am a traditional catholic myself. But for me, a traditional catholic is someone who if he is puzzled by something the holy Father is doing or saying doesn’t simply assume that they are right and the pope is wrong. And I spend far more time attacking secularist heresy than many of those who claim to be traditionalists but think they are more authoritaittve than the bishop of Rome. That seems to me, to put mildly, to smack of the sin of pride.

  • W Oddie

    Stop canting, you leering hypocrite: why don’t you just stop mocking decent people? You have had your say: kindly, now, just shut the **** up.

  • W Oddie

    He is, of course, all in favour of contraceptives and gay masses. But I think we need now to pull the plug on this man by simply ignoring him (see below) . he has nothing but contempt for those who care about the Catholic tradition. Don’t argue with him.

  • Louisa

    I see your point, and I do think that we shouldn’t have people setting themselves up as a greater authority than the pope. It seems to me that some of what you are critiquing is caused by a sense of abandonnment and confusion (not necessarily fair to feel that way, but possibly the real state of things) among traditional Catholics who see bishops ignore SP or who hear the Pope’s comments on condoms (don’t misunderstand, I know he didn’t change the Church’s teaching, but unfortunately I also know how the secular media works and it was disheartening to have another stick for them to beat us with) and get intently frustrated. Nevertheless, I think you are right and we must all ultimately know that even if we disagree or don’t understand, we must obey and trust that gates of hell will not prevail against our Church. I speak as a prideful, impatient, disobedient person though when I tell you it’s very hard!

  • Louisa

    Thank you for that. I’m afraid I thought he was being serious.

  • Petrus

    I didn’t realise that, William. That explains a lot.

  • Jeannine

    ” Cardinal Schonborn telling youngsters that contraception can be used…”
    Petrus,
    The Italian edition of YouCat mistranslated from the original German. The English translation is OK. Please see http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/youth-catechism-publisher-says-contraceptive-language-not-in-original-text/.

  • Janet_baker76

    So the devil speaks with a brogue? He’ll speak any way you like, as long as you’re buying this false picture of Christ. Look at his suffering face this coming week: this is the the truth about false religions. He did most certainly did not consort with sinners, he died for them.

  • Profideboostore

    ” The conclusions you come to are flawed, aren’t they? His Holiness is clearly speaking of those who can legitimately claim invincible ignorance. In this day and age there are very few who claim this.”

    This is the highest degree of presuptiousness. Whether somebody is in invincible ignorance or not, is known to God alone. We are not here to judge it by our standards.What appears to us on the basis of external observation is one think, what is in the mind of an individual is another.

    We can say if we know that somebody is a murderer that he has done an evil deed, but whether he has committed mortal sin is known to God alone, because the mortal sin is not merely an evil deed, but it must be done freely (whether it is done with some kind of inner compulsion we do not know), and with full awarness that he has done an evil deed (none of us is fully aware of evils we do: just read a textbook of special moral theology, and you will soon realize that there is no chance of you escaping Hell).

    Materially, objectively, all non-Catholics are in a permanent state of evil of sepatation from the Church, but to be in a state of mortal sin depends on the same two additional conditions: they must be in that state freely (what can they do if they are so conditioned by their upbringing ?), and fully aware that their status is evil.

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    Hello Janet,

    I hope God will forgive me for my misunderstanding of the books I have read.