Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) said “The sanctity of a man lies in the breadth of three fingers (the forehead), that is to say, in mortifying the understanding, which would fain reason upon things.”

The shorter version of his maxim is “Holiness is three fingers deep”. 

With these words the saint exhorts us to mortify the razionale – our habit of trusting too much in our capacity for reasoning.

Saint Philip’s maxim does not propose an irrational approach to the life of faith. He simply warns us of the spiritual danger in overvaluing our own intellect. He meant that we come to a deeper relationship with God not primarily by reasoning about it, but by opening ourselves up to the laws and aspirations which the Creator Himself has written on the human heart.

By mortifying our tendency to excessive rationalizing, and by disciplining an unwarranted confidence in our own ability to understand everything, our hearts are freed from the tyranny of the razionale. In this freedom we become more receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so may grow in holiness.

We mortify our mind in order to liberate and enlarge our heart.

[drawing by the Slovakian artist Radovan Bolcar]