Karma and Christ's Remission of Sins
Christ and the Human Soul. The third of four lectures
Rudolf Steiner, Norrköping, Sweden, July 15, 1914:
One of the concepts which must occur to us when we speak of the relation of Christ to the human soul is undoubtedly that of sin and guilt. We know what an incisive significance it had in the Christianity of St. Paul. Our present age, however, is not well adapted for gaining a really deep inner understanding of the wider connections between the concepts “death and sin” and “death and immortality” which are to be found in Paul's writings. That cannot be expected in our materialistic times. Let us recall what I said in the first lecture of this course, that there can be no true immortality of the human soul without a continuation of consciousness after death. An ending of consciousness with death would be equivalent to the fact, which would then have to be accepted, that man is not immortal. An unconscious continuance of man's being after death would mean that the most important part of him, that which makes him a man, would not exist after death. An unconscious human soul surviving after death would not mean much more than the sum of atoms which, as materialism recognizes, remain even when the human body is destroyed.
For Paul, it was an unshakable conviction that it is possible to speak of immortality only if individual consciousness is maintained. And since he had to regard the individual consciousness as subject to sin and guilt, he would naturally think: If a man's consciousness is obscured or disturbed after death by sin and guilt, or by their results, this signifies that sin and guilt really kill man — they kill him as soul, as spirit. The materialistic consciousness of our time of course is remote from that. Many modern philosophical thinkers are content to speak of a continuance of the life of the human soul, whereas the immortality of man can be identified only with a continuing conscious existence of the human soul after death.
Here, certainly, a difficulty may easily arise, especially for the anthroposophical worldview. To approach this difficulty we need only look at the opposition between the concept of guilt and sin and the concept of karma. Many anthroposophists get over this simply by saying: “We believe in karma, meaning a debt which a man contracts in any one of his incarnations; he bears this debt with him, as part of his karma, and discharges it later; so, in the course of incarnations, a compensation is brought about.” Here the difficulty begins. These people then easily say: “How can this be reconciled with the Christian acceptance of the forgiveness of sins through Christ?” and yet the idea of the forgiveness of sins is intimately bound up with true Christianity. We need think of one example: Christ on the Cross between the two malefactors. The malefactor on the left hand mocks at Christ: “If thou wilt be God, help thyself and us!” The malefactor on the right says that the other ought not to speak thus, for both had merited their fate of crucifixion, the just award of their deeds; whereas He was innocent and yet had to experience the same fate. And the malefactor on the right went on to say: “Think of me when thou art in thy kingdom.” And Christ answered him: “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
It is not permissible merely to gainsay these words or to omit them from the Gospel, for they are very significant. The difficulty for anthroposophists arises from the question: If this malefactor on the right has to wash away the karma he has incurred, what does it mean when Christ, as though pardoning and forgiving him, says: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise”? An objector may say that the malefactor on the right will have to wash away his karmic debt, even as the one on the left. Why is a difference made by Christ between the malefactor on the right and the one on the left? There is no doubt at all that here the anthroposophical conception of karma meets a difficulty that is not easy to solve. It can be solved, however, when we try to probe more deeply into Christianity by means of spiritual science. And now I shall approach the subject from quite another side, a side already known to you, but it can bring certain remarkable circumstances to light.
You know how often we speak of Lucifer and Ahriman, and how Lucifer and Ahriman are represented in my Mystery Plays. If one begins to consider the matter in a human-anthropomorphic sense and simply makes of Lucifer a kind of inner and Ahriman a kind of outer criminal, there will be difficulty in getting on; for we must not forget that Lucifer, besides being the bringer of evil into the world, the inner evil that arises through the passions, is also the bringer of freedom. Lucifer plays an important role in the universe, and so does Ahriman.
When we began to speak more of Lucifer and Ahriman, our experience was that many of those associated with us became uneasy; they still had a feeling of what people have always thought of Lucifer — that he is a fearful criminal to the world, against whom one must defend oneself. Naturally, an anthroposophist cannot go all the way with this feeling, for he has to assign to Lucifer an important role in the universe; and yet again, Lucifer must be regarded as an opponent of the progressive gods, as an enemy who crosses the creative plan of those gods to whom reverence is rightly due. Thus, when we speak of Lucifer in this way, we are ascribing an important role in the universe to an enemy of the gods. And we must do the same for Ahriman.
From this point of view it is easy to understand the human feeling that leads a person to ask: “What is the right attitude to adopt towards Lucifer and Ahriman; am I to love them or to hate them? I really don't know what to do about them.” How does all this come about? It should be quite clear from the way in which one speaks of Lucifer and Ahriman that they are Beings who by their whole nature do not belong to the physical plane but have their mission and task in the Cosmos outside the physical plane, in the spiritual worlds. In the lectures given in Munich in the summer of 1913 [Eight lectures with the title The Secrets of the Threshold], I laid particular emphasis on the fact that the progressive gods have assigned to Lucifer and Ahriman roles in the spiritual world; and that discrepancy and disharmony appear only when they bring down their activities into the physical plane and arrogate to themselves rights which are not allotted to them. But we must submit to one fact which the human soul does not readily accept when these matters are under consideration, and it is this: Our human judgment holds good only for the physical plane, and — right as it may be for the physical plane — it cannot be simply transferred to the higher worlds. We must therefore gradually accustom ourselves in Anthroposophy to widen our judgments and our world of concepts and ideas. It is because materialistically minded men of the present day do not want to widen their judgment, but instead prefer to keep to judgments which hold good for the physical plane, that they have such difficulty in understanding Anthroposophy, although it is all perfectly intelligible.
If we say, “one power is hostile to another”, then on the physical plane it is quite right to say “Enmity is improper, it ought not to exist”. But the same thing does not hold good for the higher planes. There, judgment must be widened. Just as in the realm of electricity positive and negative electricity are necessary, so is spiritual hostility necessary in order that the universe may exist in its entirety; it is necessary that the spirits should oppose one another. Here is the truth in the saying of Heracleitos, that strife as well as love constitutes the universe. It is only when Lucifer works upon the human soul, and when through the human soul strife is brought into the physical world, that strife is wrong. But this does not hold good for the higher worlds; there, the hostility of the spirits is an element that belongs to the whole structure, the whole evolution, of the universe. This implies that as soon as we come into the higher worlds we must adopt other standards, other colorings for our judgments. That is why there is often a feeling of shock when we speak of Lucifer and Ahriman on the one hand as the opponents of the gods, and on the other hand as being necessary for the whole course of the cosmic order. Hence we must, above all things, hold firmly in our minds that a man comes into collision with the cosmic order if he allows a judgment which holds good for the physical plane to hold good for the higher worlds also.
Now the root of the whole matter, which must again and again be emphasized, is that the Christ, as Christ, does not belong with the other beings of the physical plane. From the moment of the baptism in the Jordan, a being who had not previously existed on Earth, a being who does not belong to the order of Earth-beings, entered into the corporeality of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus in Christ we are concerned with a being who could truly say to the disciples: “I am from above, but ye are from below”, which means: “I am a being of the kingdom of Heaven, ye are of the kingdom of Earth.”
And now let us consider the consequences of this. Must an earthly judgment that is entirely justifiable as such, and that everyone on Earth must maintain, be also the judgment of that cosmic being who, as Christ, entered the Jesus body? That being who passed into the body of Jesus at the baptism in the Jordan applies not an earthly but a heavenly judgment. He must judge differently from men.
And now let us consider the whole import of the words spoken on Golgotha. The malefactor on the left believes that in the Christ merely an earthly being is present, not a being whose realm is beyond the earthly kingdom. But just before death there comes to the consciousness of the malefactor on the right: “Thy kingdom, O Christ, is another; think of me when thou art in Thy kingdom.” At this moment the malefactor on the right shows that he has a dim idea of the fact that Christ belongs to another kingdom, where a power of judgment quite different from that obtaining on the Earth holds sway. Then, out of the consciousness that He stands in His kingdom, Christ can answer: “Verily, because thou hast some dim foreboding of my kingdom, this day (that is, with death) thou shalt be with me in my kingdom.” This indicates the super-earthly Christ power that draws up the human individuality into a spiritual kingdom. Earthly judgment, human judgment, must of course say: “As regards karma, the right-hand malefactor will have to make compensation for his guilt, even as the one on the left.” For heavenly judgment, however, something else holds good.
But that is only the beginning of the matter, for of course it might now be said: “Yes, then the judgment of Heaven contradicts that of the Earth. How can Christ forgive where earthly judgment demands karmic justice?”
This is indeed a difficult question, but we will try to approach it more closely in the course of this lecture. I lay special emphasis on the fact that we are touching here on one of the most difficult questions of occult science. We must make a distinction which the human soul does not willingly make, because it does not like following out the matter to its ultimate consequences, and there are indeed some difficulties in so doing. We shall find it, as I have said, a difficult subject, and you will perhaps have to turn the question over in your minds many times in order to get at its real essence.
To start with, we must make a distinction. We must first consider how, through karma, objective justice is fulfilled. Here we must clearly understand that a man is certainly subject to his karma; he has to make karmic compensation for unjust deeds, and if we think more deeply about it, we can see that he will not really wish it otherwise. For suppose a man has done another person wrong; in the moment of doing so he is further from fulfillment than he was before, and he can recover the lost ground only by making compensation for his unjust act. He must wish to make compensation, for only by so doing can he bring himself back to the stage he had reached before committing the act. Thus for the sake of our own progress we are bound to wish that karma should be there as objective justice. When we grasp the true meaning of human freedom, we can have no wish that a sin should be so forgiven us that we would no longer need to pay it off in our karma. For example, a man who puts out the eyes of another is more imperfect that one who does not, and in his later karma it must come to pass that he does a correspondingly good deed, for only then will he be inwardly again the man he was before he committed the sin. So if we rightly consider the nature of man, we cannot suppose that when a man has put out the eyes of another it will be forgiven him, and that karma will be in some way adjusted. Hence there is rightness in the fact that we are not excused a farthing of our karma, but must pay our debts in full.
But something else comes in. The guilt, the sins, with which we are laden are not merely our own affair; they are an objective cosmic fact which means something for the universe also. That is where the distinction must be made. The crimes we have committed are compensated through our karma, but the act of putting out another person's eyes is an accomplished fact. If we have, let us say, put out someone's eyes in a present incarnation, and then in the next incarnation we do something that makes compensation for this act, yet for the objective course of the universe the fact will remain that so many hundreds of years ago we put out someone's eyes. That is an objective fact in the universe. As far as we are concerned, we make compensation for it later. The stain that we have personally contracted is adjusted in our karma, but the objective fact remains — we cannot efface that by removing our own imperfection. We must discriminate between the consequences of a sin for ourselves, and the consequences of a sin for the objective course of the world. It is highly important that we should make this distinction. And I may now perhaps introduce an occult observation that will make the matter clearer.
If one surveys the course of human evolution since the Mystery of Golgotha and approaches the Akashic Record without being permeated with the Christ being, it is easy, very easy indeed, to be led into error, for one will find records which very often do not coincide with the karmic evolution of the individuals concerned. For example, let us suppose that in, say, the year 733 some man lived and incurred heavy guilt. The person now examining the Akashic Record may at first have no connection with the Christ being. And behold — the man's guilt cannot be found in the Akashic Record. Examination of the karma of this man in a later incarnation reveals that there is something still in his karma which he has to wipe out. That must have existed in the Akashic Record at a certain point of time, but it is no longer there. A strange contradiction! This is an objective fact which may occur in many cases. I may meet a man today, and if through grace I am permitted to know something about his karma I may perhaps find that some misfortune or stroke of fate that has fallen on him stands in his karma, that it is an adjustment of earlier guilt. If I turn to his earlier incarnations and examine what he did then, I do not find his guilty deed registered in the Akashic Record. How does this come about?
The reason is that Christ has taken upon Himself the objective debt. In the moment that I permeate myself with Christ, I discover the deed when I examine the Akashic Record. Christ has taken it into His kingdom and He bears it further, so that when I look away from Christ I cannot find it in the Akashic Record. This distinction must be kept clearly in mind: karmic justice remains, but Christ intervenes in the effects of the guilt in the spiritual world. He takes over the debt into His kingdom and bears it further. Christ is that being who, because He is of another kingdom, is able to blot out in the world our debts and our sins, taking them upon Himself.
What is it that Christ on the Cross of Golgotha really conveys to the malefactor on the left? He does not utter it, but in the fact that He does not utter it, lies its essence. He conveys to the malefactor on the left: What thou has done will continue to work in the spiritual world, and not merely in the physical world. To the malefactor on the right He says: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” This means: “I am beside thine act; through thy karma thou wilt have later on to do for thyself all that the act signifies for thee, but what the act signifies for the universe, that” — if I may use a trivial expression — ”is my concern.” That is what Christ says. The distinction made here is certainly an important one, and significant not only for the time after the Mystery of Golgotha but also for the time before the Mystery of Golgotha.
Some of our friends will remember that in earlier lectures I have called attention to the fact that Christ really did descend to the dead after His death; this is not a mere legend. He thereby accomplished something also for the souls who in previous ages had laden themselves with guilt and sins. Error now comes in if a man, without being permeated with Christ, investigates in the Akashic Record the time before the Mystery of Golgotha. He will continually make errors in his reading of the Akashic Record. Hence, for example, I was not at all surprised that Leadbeater, who in reality knows nothing about Christ, should have made the most abstruse statements concerning the evolution of the Earth in his book Man: How, Whence and Whither. For only through permeation with the Christ Impulse is the soul capable of really seeing things as they are, and how they have been regulated in the evolution of the Earth on the basis of the Mystery of Golgotha, though they occurred before it.
Karma is an affair of the successive incarnations of man. The significance of karmic justice must be looked at with our earthly judgment. That which Christ does for humanity must be measured by a judgment that belongs to worlds other than this Earth-world. And suppose that were not so? Let us think of the end of the Earth, of the time when men will have passed through their earthly incarnations. Most certainly it will come to pass that all debts will have to be paid to the last farthing. Human souls will have had to balance their karma in a certain way. But let us imagine that all guilt had continued to exist in the Earth-world, that all guilt would go on working there. Then at the end of the Earth period human beings would be there with their karma balanced, but the Earth would not be ready to develop into the Jupiter condition; the whole of Earth humanity would be there without a dwelling place, without the possibility of developing onwards to Jupiter. The fact that the whole Earth develops along with man is a result of the Deed of Christ. All the guilt and debt that would otherwise have piled up would cast the Earth into darkness, and we should have no planet for our further evolution. In our karma we can take care of ourselves, but not of humanity as a whole, and not of that which in Earth-evolution is connected with the whole evolution of humanity.
So let us realize that karma will not be taken from us, but that our debts and sins will be wiped out from the Earth-evolution through what has come in with the Mystery of Golgotha. Now we must, of course, realize clearly that all this cannot be bestowed on man without his cooperation — i.e., cannot be his unless he does something. And that is clearly brought before us in the utterance from the Cross of Golgotha which I have quoted. It is very definitely shown to us how the soul of the malefactor on the right received a dim idea of a supersensible kingdom wherein things proceed otherwise than in the mere earthly kingdom. Man must fill his soul with the substance of the Christ being; he must, as it were, have taken something of the Christ into his soul, so that Christ is active in him and bears him into a kingdom where man has, indeed, no power to make his karma ineffective, but where it comes to pass through Christ that our debts and sins are blotted out from our external world.
This has been wonderfully represented in painting. There is no one upon whom a picture such as “Christ as Judge at the Last Judgment” by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel can fail to make a deep impression. What really underlies such a picture? Let us take not the deep esoteric fact but the picture that is here presented to our souls. We see the righteous and the sinners. It would have been possible to present this picture differently from the way in which Michelangelo, as a Christian, has painted it. There was the possibility that at the end of the Earth, men, seeing their karma, might have said to themselves: “Yes, I have indeed wiped off my karma, but everywhere in the spiritual, written on tablets of brass, are my guilt and my sins, and they weigh heavily on the Earth; they will destroy the Earth. As far as I am concerned I have made compensation, but there the guilt stands, everywhere.” That would not, however, be the truth. For through the fact of Christ's death upon Golgotha, men will not see the tablets of their guilt and sin, but they will see Him who has taken them upon himself; they will see, united with the being of Christ, all that would otherwise be spread out in the Akashic Record. In place of the Akashic Record, the Christ stands before them, having taken all upon Himself.
We are looking into deep secrets of the Earth's existence. But what is necessary in order to fathom the true state of things in this domain? It is this: that men, no matter whether they are righteous or sinful, should have the possibility of looking upon Christ, that they should not look upon an empty place where the Christ should stand. The connection with Christ is necessary, and the malefactor on the right shows us his connection with Christ by what he says. And although the Christ has given to those who work in His spirit the behest to forgive sins, this never means encroaching upon karma. What it does mean is that the earthly kingdom will be rescued for those who stand in relationship to Christ, rescued from the spiritual consequences of guilt and sin, which are objective facts even when a later karma has made compensation for them.
What does it signify for the human soul when one who may so speak says in the name of Christ: “Thy sins are forgiven thee?” It means that he is able to assert: “Thou hast indeed to await thy karmic settlement; but Christ has transformed thy guilt and sin so that later thou mayest not have the terrible sorrow of looking back upon thy guilt and seeing that through it thou hast destroyed a part of the Earth's existence.” Christ blots it out. But a certain consciousness is necessary, and those who would forgive sins may rightly demand it — a consciousness of the guilt, and consciousness that Christ has the power to take it upon Himself. For the saying “Thy sins are forgiven thee” denotes a cosmic fact and not a karmic fact.
Christ shows His relation to this so wonderfully in a certain passage — so wonderfully that it penetrates deep, deep into our hearts. Let us call up in our souls the scene where the woman taken in adultery comes before Him, with those who were condemning her. They bring the woman before Him and in two different ways Christ meets them. He writes in the Earth; and He forgives, He does not judge; He does not condemn. Why does He write in the Earth? Because karma works, because karma is objective justice. For the adulteress, her act cannot be obliterated. Christ writes it in the Earth.
But with the spiritual, the not-earthly consequence, it is otherwise. Christ takes upon Himself the spiritual consequence. “He forgives” does not mean that He blots out in the absolute sense, but that He takes upon Himself the consequences of the objective act.
Now let us think of all that it signifies when the human soul is able to say to itself: “Yes, I have done this or that in the world. It does not impair my evolution, for I do not remain as imperfect as I was when I committed the deed; I am permitted to overcome that imperfection in the further course of my karma by making compensation for the deed. But I cannot undo it for the Earth-evolution.” Man would have to bear unspeakable suffering if a being had not united Himself with the Earth, a being who undoes for the Earth that which we cannot change. This being is the Christ. He takes away from us not subjective karma, but the objective spiritual effects of the acts, the guilt. That is what we must follow up in our hearts, and then for the first time we shall understand that Christ is in truth that being who is bound up with the whole of Earth-humanity. For the Earth is there for the sake of mankind, and so Christ is connected also with the whole Earth. It is a weakness of man, as a consequence of the Luciferic temptation, that although he is indeed able to redeem himself subjectively through karma, he cannot redeem the Earth at the same time. That is accomplished by the Cosmic Being, the Christ.
And now we understand why many anthroposophists cannot realize that Christianity is in full accord with the idea of karma. They are people who bring into Anthroposophy the most intense egoism, a super-egoism; certainly they do not put it into words, but still they really think and feel: “If I can only redeem myself through my karma, what does the world matter to me? Let it do what it will!” These anthroposophists are quite satisfied if they can speak of karmic adjustment. But there is a great deal more to be done. Man would be a purely Luciferic being if he were to think only of himself. Man is a member of the whole world, and he must think about it in the sense that he can indeed be egotistically redeemed through his karma, but is not able to redeem the whole Earth-existence. Here the Christ enters. At the moment when we decide not to think only of our ego, we must think about something other than our ego. Of what must we think? Of the “Christ in me”, as Paul says; then indeed we are united with Him in the whole Earth-existence. We do not then think of our self-redemption, but we say: “Not I and my own redemption — not I, but the Christ in me and the redemption of the Earth.”
Many believe they may call themselves true Christians, and yet they speak of others — anthroposophical Christians, for instance — as heretics. There is very little true Christian feeling here. The question may perhaps be permitted: “Is it really Christian to think that I may do whatever I like and that Christ came into the world in order to take it all away from me and to forgive my sins, so that I need have nothing more to do with my karma, with my sins?” I think there is another word more applicable to such a way of thinking than the word “Christian”; perhaps the word “convenient” would be better. “Convenient” it would certainly be if a man had only to repent, and then all the sins he had committed in the world were obliterated from the whole of his later karma. The sin is not blotted out from karma; but it can be blotted out from the Earth-evolution, and this it is that man cannot do because of the human weakness that results from the Luciferic temptation. Christ accomplishes this. With the remission of sins we are saved from the pain of having added an objective debt to the Earth-evolution for all eternity.
Only, of course, we must have a serious interest in this. When we have this true understanding of Christ a greater earnestness will manifest itself in many other ways as well. Many elements will fall away from those conceptions of Christ which may well seem full of triviality and cynicism to the man whose soul has absorbed the Christ-conception in all seriousness. For all that has been said today, and it can be proved point by point from the most significant passages of the New Testament, tells us that everything Christ is for us derives from the fact that He is not a being like other men but a being who, from above — that is, from out of the Cosmos — entered into Earth-evolution at the baptism by John in the Jordan. Everything speaks for the cosmic nature of Christ. And he who deeply grasps Christ's attitude toward sin and debt may speak thus: “Because man in the course of the Earth's existence could not blot out his guilt for the whole Earth, a Cosmic being had to descend in order that the Earth's debt might be discharged.”
True Christianity must needs regard Christ as a Cosmic being. It cannot do otherwise. Then, however, our soul will be deeply permeated by what is meant in the words “Not I, but Christ in me.” For then from this knowledge there radiates into our soul something that I can express only in these words: “When I am able to say ‘Not I, but Christ in me’, in that moment I acknowledge that I shall be raised from the Earth-sphere, that in me there lives something that has significance to the Cosmos, and that I am counted worthy, as man, to bear a super-earthly element in my soul, just as I bear within me a super-earthly being in all that has entered into me from Saturn, Sun, and Moon evolutions.”
The consciousness of being permeated with Christ will become of immense importance. And with St. Paul's saying, “Not I, but Christ in me”, a man will connect the feeling that his inner responsibility to Christ must be taken in deep, deep earnestness. Anthroposophy will bring into the Christ-consciousness this feeling of responsibility in such a way that we shall not presume on every occasion to say: “I thought so, and because I thought so, I had a right to say it.” Our materialistic age is carrying this further and further. “I was convinced of this, and therefore I had a right to say it.” But is it not a profanation of the Christ in us, a fresh crucifixion of the Christ in us, that at any moment when we believe something or other, we cry it out to the world, or send it out into the world in writing, without having investigated it?
When the full significance of Christ comes home to mankind, the individual will feel that he must be more and more conscientious, must prove himself worthy of Christ, this Cosmic Principle, within him.
It may be readily believed that those who do not want to receive Christ as a Cosmic Principle, but are ready at every opportunity to repent an offence, will first tell all kinds of lies about their fellow men and will then want to wipe out the lies. Anyone who wishes to give worthy proof of the Christ in his soul will first ask himself whether he ought to say a certain thing, even though he may for the moment be convinced of it.
Many things will be changed when a true conception of Christ comes into the world. All those countless people today who write, or disfigure paper with printer's ink, because they briskly write down things of which they have no knowledge, will come to realize that by so doing they are putting the Christ in the human soul to shame. And then the excuse will cease: “Well, I thought it was so, I said it in good faith.” Christ wants more than “good faith”; Christ would fain lead men to the truth. He Himself has said, “The truth will make you free.” But where has Christ ever said that it is possible for anyone who is thinking in His sense to shout out or put forth in writing something or other of which he really knows nothing? Much indeed will be changed! A great deal of modern writing will be ruled out when people proceed from the principle of proving themselves worthy of the saying “Not I, but Christ in me.” The cancer of our decadent civilization will be rooted out when silence falls on those voices which, without real conviction, cry everything out into the world, or cover paper with printer's ink irresponsibly, without being first convinced that they are speaking the truth.
The “Christian conscience”, as we may call it in a certain sense, will arise in increasing measure as human souls become more and more conscious of the presence of Christ, and the saying of Paul becomes true: “Not I, but Christ in me!”
More and more will souls be imbued with the consciousness that a man ought not to say merely what he thinks, but must prove the objective truth of what he says.
Christ will be for the soul a teacher of truth, a teacher of the highest sense of responsibility. In these ways He will permeate souls when they come to experience the whole import of the saying: “Not I, but Christ in me.”
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