Mark the Ascetic: Letter to Nicholas the Solitary
Since you have recently become much concerned about your salvation, and have been asking yourself how you can live a life according to God, you have consulted us and told us about yourself: how with great labor and burning desire you wished to cleave to God through a strict way of life, through self-control and much hardship, through vigils and intense prayer. You spoke of the conflicts and the swarm of carnal passions stirred up in our bodily nature and aroused against the soul by the law of sin that fights against the law of our intellect (cf Rom. 7:23). You deplored the fact that you are especially troubled by the passions of anger and desire, and you asked for some method and words of advice indicating what ascetic practices you should adopt to overcome these two destructive passions. At that time we talked with you directly and suggested, as far as we could, various ideas to help you, explaining how the soul should engage in ascetic efforts with understanding and spiritual knowledge, in accordance with the Gospel: and how, living by faith and helped by grace, it can overcome the evils that spring up in the heart, and especially the two passions just mentioned. Our soul should fight most vigorously and continually against those passions to which it is especially liable through prepossession and habit, until it has subdued the non-spiritual and uncontrolled operations of vice to which up till now it has been subject; for the soul is carried away captive through its inward assent to the thoughts with which it is constantly and sinfully occupied.
We are now physically separated from you 'for a short time, in presence but not in heart' (1 Thess. 2:17), for we have gone to live in the desert with the true ascetics of Christ. It is our hope that we, too, may to some small extent pursue the spiritual way in company with our brethren, who are fighting against the hostile energies and bravely resisting the passions. We are trying to shake off sloth and laxity, to free ourselves from negligence, and to make every effort to conform to God's will. So we have decided to write you a few words of advice for the benefit of your soul. In this modest letter you will find some of the things we mentioned to you in our talk; we ask you to read it carefully, as though we were ourselves present, so that it may help you spiritually.
This, my son, is how you should begin your life according to God. You should continually and unceasingly call to mind all the blessings which God in His love has bestowed upon you in the past, and still bestows for the salvation of your soul. You must not let forgetfulness of evil or laziness make you grow unmindful of these many and great blessings, and so pass the rest of your life uselessly and ungratefully. For this kind of continual recollection, pricking the heart like a spur, moves it constantly to confession and humility, to thanksgiving with a contrite soul, and to all forms of sincere effort, repaying God through its virtue and holiness. In this way the heart meditates constantly and conscientiously on the words from the Psalms; 'What shall I give to the Lord in return for all His benefits towards me?'(Ps. 116:12).
Thus the soul recalls the blessings of God's love which it has received from the moment it came into existence: how it has often been delivered from dangers: how in spite of having often fallen by its own free choice into great evils and sins, it was not justly given up to destruction and death at the hands of the spirits of deception: and how God with long-suffering overlooked its offences and protected it, awaiting its return. It also recalls that although through the passions it had become the willing servant of hostile and malicious spirits. He sustained it, guarding it and in all ways providing for it: and finally that He guided it with a clear sign to the path of salvation, and inspired it with the love of the ascetic life. So He gave it the strength gladly to abandon the world and all the deceitfulness of worldly pleasure, adorning it with the angelic habit of the monastic order, and providing for it to be received by holy men in an organized brotherhood.
Can any man consciously call these things to mind and not be moved always to contrition of heart? Having so many pledges from past blessings, will he not always have firm hope, in spite of the fact that he himself has so far done nothing good'? He will say to himself: 'Though I have done nothing good and have committed many sins before Him, living in uncleanness of the flesh and indulging in many other vices, yet He did not deal with me according to my sins, or reward me according to my iniquities (cf Ps. 103:10), but gave me all these gifts of grace for my salvation. If, then, from now onwards I give myself completely to His service, living in all purity and acquiring the virtues, how many holy and spiritual gifts will He not grant me, strengthening me in every good work, guiding and leading me aright.' If a man always thinks in this way and does not forget God's blessings, he encourages and urges himself on to the practice of every virtue and of every righteous work, always ready, always eager to do the will of God.
Therefore, my dear son, since through the grace of Christ you possess natural understanding, continue always to occupy your mind with such meditation. Do not let yourself be overcome by destructive forgetfulness or by the laziness which paralyzes the intellect and turns it away from life; do not allow ignorance, the cause of all evils, to darken your thinking; do not be lured by the corrosive vice of negligence; do not be seduced by sensual pleasure or defeated by gluttony: do not let your intellect be taken prisoner by lust through assenting to sexual thoughts, defiling yourself inwardly: do not be overcome by the anger which causes you to hate your brother and for some pathetic reason to inflict and suffer pain, leading you to store up malicious thoughts against your neighbor and to turn away from pure prayer. Anger enslaves the intellect, and makes you regard your brother with bestial cruelty; it fetters the conscience with uncontrolled impulses of the flesh, and surrenders you for a time to be chastised by the evil spirits to whom you have yielded.
Eventually your intellect, at a loss where to turn, is overwhelmed by dejection and laziness and forfeits all its spiritual progress. Then in deep humility it sets out once more on the path of salvation. Laboring much in prayer and all-night vigils, it uproots the causes of evil within itself through humility and confession before God and our neighbor. In this way it begins to regain the state of watchfulness and, illumined with divine grace and understanding of the Gospels, it perceives that no one can become a true Christian unless he gives himself up completely to the cross in a spirit of humility and self-denial, and makes himself lower than all, letting himself be trampled underfoot, insulted, despised, wronged, ridiculed and mocked, and all this he must endure joyfully for the Lord's sake, not clothes.
Such are the contests and such the prizes that lie before us. How long, then, shall we mock ourselves by pretending to be devout, serving the Lord with hypocrisy, being thought one thing by men but clearly seen to be quite different by Him who knows our secrets? Other people regard us as saintly, but we are still savage. Although we have indeed an outward form of godliness, we do not possess its power before God (cf 2 Tim. 3:5). Other people regard us as virginal and chaste, but in the sight of Him who knows our secrets, we are inwardly defiled by our assent to thoughts of unchastity, and made filthy by the activity of the passions. In spite of this, thanks to our seeming asceticism, we attract men's praises and are bowled over and blinded in our intellect.
How long shall we continue in this manner, our intellect reduced to futility, failing to make the spirit of the Gospel our own, not knowing what it means to live according to our conscience, making no serious effort to keep it pure? Lacking real knowledge, we still trust solely in the apparent righteousness of our outward way of life, and so lead ourselves astray, trying to please men, pursuing the glory, honor and praise which they offer. But the Judge who cannot be deceived will certainly come, and 'will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness, and reveal the purposes of hearts' (1 Cor. 4:5). He neither respects the wealthy nor pities the poor, but strips away the outward appearance and reveals the truth hidden within. In the presence of the angels and before His own Father, He crowns those who have truly pursued the spiritual way and lived according to their conscience: and in the presence of the heavenly Church of the saints and of all the celestial hosts. He exposes those who possessed merely an outward pretence of devotion, which they displayed to men, vainly relying on it and deceiving themselves: and He banishes them in shame to outer darkness.
Such people are like the foolish virgins (cf. Matt. 25:1-12), who did indeed preserve their outer virginity, yet in spite of this were not admitted to the marriage -feast: they also had some oil in their vessels, that is, they possessed some virtues and external achievements and some gifts of grace, so that their lamps remained alight for a certain time. But because of negligence, ignorance and laziness they were not provident, and did not pay careful attention to the hidden swarm they themselves assented to this demonic activity and shared in it. They were secretly enticed and overcome by malicious envy, by jealousy that hates everything good, by strife, quarrelling, hatred, anger, bitterness, rancor, hypocrisy, wrath, pride, self-esteem, love of popularity, self-satisfaction, avarice, listlessness, by sensual desire which provokes images of self-indulgence, by unbelief, irreverence, cowardice, dejection, contentiousness, sluggishness, sleep, presumption, self-justification, pomposity, boastfulness, msatiateness, profligacy, greed, by despair which is the most dangerous of all, and by the subtle workings of vice. Even the good acts which they performed and their life of chastity were all for the sake of being seen and praised by men; and though they had a share in some gifts of grace, this they sold to the spirits of self-esteem and popularity. Because of their involvement with the other passions, they mixed their virtues with sinful and worldly thoughts, so rendering them unacceptable and impure, like Cain's sacrifice (cf Gen. 4:5). Thus they were deprived of the joy of the Bridegroom and shut out from the heavenly bridal chamber.
Pondering, assessing and testing all this, let us realize our situation and correct our way of life while we still have time for repentance and conversion. Let us perform our good actions with purity, so that they are really good and not mixed with worldly thoughts: otherwise they will be rejected, like a blemished sacrifice, because of our irreverence, negligence and want of real knowledge. Let us be careful not to waste our days, lest we undergo all the effort of the life of virginity - practicing self-control, keeping vigil, fasting, showing hospitality - only to find at the end that, because of the passions we have mentioned, our apparent righteousness, like the blemished sacrifice, proves unacceptable to the heavenly Priest, Christ our God.
Therefore, my son, he who wishes to take up the cross and follow Christ must first acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding through constantly examining his thoughts, showing the utmost concern for his salvation, and seeking God with all his strength. He should question other servants of God who are of the same mind and engaged in the same ascetic struggle, so that he does not travel in the dark without a light, not knowing how or where to walk. For the man who goes his own way, traveling without understanding of the Gospels and without any guidance, often stumbles and falls into many pits and snares of the devil: he frequently goes astray and exposes himself to many dangers, not knowing where he is going. For many have endured great ascetic labors, much hardship and toil for God's sake: but because they relied on their own judgment, lacked discrimination, and failed to accept help from their neighbor, their many efforts proved useless and vain.
So then, my beloved son, follow the advice I gave you at the beginning of this letter, and do not let yourself be dragged down unwittingly by vice and laziness, so that you forget the gifts you have received through God's love. Bring before your eyes the blessings, whether physical or spiritual, conferred on you from the beginning of your life down to the present, and call them repeatedly to mind in accordance with the words: 'Forget not all His benefits' (Ps. 103:2). Then your heart will readily be moved to the fear and love of God, so that you repay Him, as far as you can, by your strict life, virtuous conduct, devout conscience, wise speech, true faith and humility - in short, by dedicating your whole self to God. When you are moved by the recollection of all these blessings which you have received through God's loving goodness, your heart will be spontaneously wounded with longing and love through this recol- lection or, rather, with the help of divine grace, for He has not done for others who are much better than yourself such miraculous things as in His ineffable love He has done for you.
Try, then, to remember unceasingly all the blessings that have been given to you by God. In particular, always keep in mind that miraculous grace which you told us He conferred on you when you were sailing with your mother from the Holy Land to Constantinople. Recall the terrifying and uncontrollable violence of the storm that broke on you during the night, and how everyone in the ship, including the crew and your mother herself, perished in the sea; and how by an incredible act of divine power you and two others alone were thrown clear of the wreck and escaped. Remember how you came providentially to Ankyra, and how, with fatherly compassion, you were given hospitality by a certain freeman, and became friends with his devout son Epiphanios. Then both of you, under the guidance of a holy man, entered on the path of salvation, and were received as true sons by the servants of God. What repayment for all these blessings can you possibly make to Him who has called your soul to eternal life? It is only right, then, that you should live no longer for yourself, but for Christ, who died for your sake and rose again. In your struggle to acquire every virtue and to fulfill every commandment, always seek 'the good, acceptable and perfect will of God' (Rom. 12:2), endeavoring with all your strength to pursue it.
Submit your youth to the word of God, my son, and, as this word commands, present your body as 'a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual worship' (Rom. 12:1). Cool and dry up all the moisture of sensual desire by being content with little, drinking little, and keeping all-night vigils, so that you can say in all sincerity: 'I am become like a wineskin in the frost; yet I have not forgotten Thy ordinances' (Ps. 119:83. LXX). Knowing that you are Christ's, crucify your flesh together with its affections and desires (cf Gal. 5:24). 'Put to death whatever is earthly in you' (Col. 3:5), avoiding not only external acts of unchastity, but also the impurity stimulated in your flesh by evil spirits.
Yet he who hopes to achieve true, undefiled and complete virginity does not stop here. Following the Apostle's teaching, he struggles to put to death every trace and stirring of passion itself. Even so, he is still not entirely satisfied but he longs intensely for angelic and undefiled virginity to establish itself in his body. He prays for the disappearance even of the mere thought of lust, occurring as a momentary disturbance of the intellect, without any movement and working of bodily passion. A person can achieve this only through the help and power of the Holy Spirit - if indeed there is anyone who is counted worthy of this grace.
Thus he who hopes to achieve pure, spiritual and undefiled virginity crucifies the flesh through ascetic labors and puts to death whatever is earthly in him through intense and persistent self-control. He erodes the outer man, refining him, stripping him down to the bone, so that through faith, ascetic effort and the energy of grace the inner man may be 'renewed day by day' (2 Cor. 4:16), advancing to a higher state. He grows in love, is adorned with gentleness, rejoices greatly in spirit, is ruled by the peace of Christ, led by kindness, guarded by goodness, protected by the fear of God, enlightened by understanding and knowledge, illumined by wisdom, guided by humility. The intellect, renewed by the Spirit through these and similar virtues, discovers within itself the imprint of the divine image, and perceives the spiritual and ineffable beauty of the divine likeness; and so, learning from itself, it attains the rich wisdom of the inner law. Therefore, my son, refine the youthful impulses of your flesh, and through the virtues we have described strengthen your immortal soul and renew your intellect with the help of the Spirit. For the flesh of youth, gorged with food and wine, is like a pig ready for slaughter. The flames of sensual pleasure kill the soul, while the intellect is made a prisoner by the fierce heat of evil desire and cannot then resist such pleasure. For when the blood is heated the spirit is cooled.
Young people should particularly avoid drinking wine, and even getting the smell of it. Otherwise the inward action of passion and the wine poured in from outside will produce a double conflagration, the combination of the two will brmg the flesh's sensual pleasure to boiling point, driving away the spiritual pleasure that accompanies the pain of contrition, and producing confusion and hardness of heart. Indeed, their spiritual desire should prevent the young from drinking their fill even of water, for this is a great help towards self-restraint. If you try this for yourself, experience will show you that it really is so. For in recommending this rule we do not wish to impose on you a yoke of compulsion; but with love we advise it, as an aid in attaining tme virginity and strict self-restraint, leaving it to your own free choice to do as you wish.
Now let us say something about the senseless passion of anger, which ravages, confuses and darkens every soul and, when it is active, makes those in whom it is easily and quickly aroused behave like beasts. This passion is strengthened particularly by pride, and so long as it is so strengthened it cannot be destroyed. While the diabolical tree of bitterness, anger and wrath has its roots kept moist by the foul water of pride, it blossoms and thrives and produces quantities of rotten fruit. Thus the structure of evil in the soul is impossible to destroy so long as it is rooted firmly in pride.
Do you want this tree of disorder - I mean the passion of bitterness, anger and wrath - to dry up within you and become barren, so that with the axe of the Spirit it may be 'hewn down and cast into the fire' together with every other vice (Matt. 3 : I 0)? Do you want the destruction of this house of evil which the devil builds by constructing its foundations out of thoughts of pride ? If this is what you really want, keep the humility of the Lord in your heart and never forget it.
Call to mind who He is; and what He became for our sakes. Reflect first on the sublime light of His Divinity revealed to the essences above (in so far as they can receive it) and glorified in the heavens by all spiritual beings: angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, cherubim and seraphim, and the spiritual powers whose names we do not know, as the Apostle hints (cf. Eph. 1:21). Then think to what depth of human humiliation He descended in His ineffable goodness, becoming in all respects like us who were dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Isa. 9:2; Matt. 4:16), captives through the transgression of Adam and dominated by the enemy through the activity of the passions. When we were in this harsh captivity, ruled by invisible and bitter death, the Master of all visible and invisible creation was not ashamed to humble Himself and to take upon Himself our human nature, subject as it was to the passions of shame and desire and condemned by divine judgment; and He became like us in all things except that He was without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15), that is, without ignoble passions. All the penalties imposed by divine judgment upon man for the sin of the first transgression - death, toil, hunger, thirst and the like - He took upon Himself, becoming what we are, so that we might become what He is. The Logos became man, so that man might become Logos. Being rich. He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). In His great love for man He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like Him.
From the time that Christ came to dwell with us, man created according to God's image and likeness is truly renewed through the grace and power of the Spirit, attaining to the perfect love which 'casts out fear' (1 John 4:18) - the love which is no longer able to fail, for 'love never fails' (1 Cor. 13:8). Love, says John, is God; and 'he who dwells in love dwells in God' (1 John 4:16). The apostles were granted this love, and so were those who practiced virtue as they did, offering themselves completely to the Lord, and following Christ with all their heart throughout their lifetime.
So you should continually keep in mind the great humiliation which the Lord took upon Himself in His ineffable love for us: how the divine Logos dwelt in a womb; how He took human nature upon Himself; His birth from a woman; His gradual bodily growth; the shame He suffered, the insults, vilification, ridicule and abuse; how He was scourged and spat upon, derided and mocked; the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns; His condemnation by those in power; the outcry of the unruly Jews, men of His own race, against Him: 'Away with him, away with him, crucify him' (John 19:15); the cross, the nails, the lance, the drink of vinegar and gall; the scorn of the Gentiles; the derision of the passers-by who said: 'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and we will believe you' (cf Matt. 27:39-42); and the rest of the sufferings which He patiently accepted for us: crucifixion; death; the three-day burial; the descent into hell. Then keep in mind all that has come from these sufferings: the resurrection from the dead; the liberation from hell and from death of those who were raised with the Lord; the ascension to the heavens; the enthronement at the right hand of the Father; the honor and glory that is 'far above every principality and power . . . and above every name that is named' (Eph. 1:21); the veneration of the Firstborn from the dead by all the angels, because of the sufferings He had undergone. As the Apostle says: 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Though He is in the form of God, He did not insist on clinging to His equality with God; but He emptied Himself and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. Being in this likeness. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, things on earth and things under the earth' (Phil. 2:5-10). See to what a height of glory the Lord's human nature was raised up by God's justice through these sufferings and humiliations.
If, therefore, you continually recall this with all your heart, the passion of bitterness, anger and wrath will not master you. For when the foundations constructed of the passion of pride are sapped through this recalling of Christ's humiliation, the whole perverse edifice of anger, wrath and resentment automatically collapses. For can anyone keep perpetually in mind the humiliation that the Divinity of the only -begotten Son accepted for our sake, and all the sufferings that we have mentioned, and yet be so hard and stonyhearted as not to be shattered, humbled and filled with remorse? Will he not willingly become dust and ashes, trampled underfoot by all men ?
So, when we are humbled and shattered, and keep in mind Christ's humiliation, what anger, wrath or bitterness can take possession of us? But when forgetfulness of these life-creating truths is accompanied by the sister vices of laziness and ignorance, then these three oppressive and deep-seated passions of the soul, hard to discover and correct, overlay and darken us with a terrible futility. They prepare the way for the rest of the evil passions to become active and nest in the soul, stifling its sense of awe, making it neglect what is good, and providing easy access and free scope for every passion.
For when the soul has been overlaid by pernicious forgetfulness, by destructive laziness, and by ignorance, the mother and nurse of every vice, the afflicted intellect in its blindness is readily enchained by everything that is seen, thought or heard. For instance, when we see a beautiful woman, our intellect is at once wounded by sensual desire. Then we recall what we have seen, heard, or touched with impassioned pleasure in the past, and so our memory forms sinful images within us. These defile the intellect that is still impassioned and afflicted through the activity of the demons of unchastity. Then the flesh, too, if it is well fed, full of youthful spirit, or flabby, is easily roused to passion by such memories, and moved to lust; and it performs acts of uncleanness either in sleep or awake, even though it does not have intercourse physically with a woman. Although such a man is regarded by others as chaste, pure and virgin, and may even have the reputation of being a saint, yet he is condemned as defiled, dissolute and adulterous by Him who sees into the secrets of men's hearts. At the Last Day he will justly be condemned, unless he first laments and mourns and offers to God worthy repentance, refining his flesh in fasting, vigils and unceasing prayers, healing and correcting his intellect by meditating on holy themes and on the word of God, in whose sight he conceived or did these evil things. For God says truly to each one of us: 'But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart'(Matt. 5:28).
This is why, if possible, it is very helpful for young monks not to meet women at all, even though these women are considered saintly. And if they can live in seclusion, the warfare becomes easier and they can see their own progress more clearly, especially if they confine their attention strictly to themselves, pursuing their spiritual struggle through abstemiousness, drinking but little water and being greatly vigilant in prayer. They should make every effort to seek the company of experienced spiritual fathers and to be guided by them. For it is dangerous to isolate oneself completely, relying on one's own judgment with no one else as witness: and it is equally dangerous to live with those who are inexperienced in spiritual warfare. For then we become involved in battles of other kinds, because the enemy has many hidden ways of attacking us and sets his snares around us on every side. Thus a man should try to live with those who possess spiritual knowledge, or at least to consult them continually, so that even if he is still spiritually immature and childish and does not himself possess a lamp of true knowledge, he can travel in company with someone who does. Then he will not be walking in the dark, in danger from snares and traps: and he will not fall prey to the demons who prowl like beasts in the dark, seizing and destroying those who grope there without the spiritual lamp of God's word.
If then, my son, you wish to acquire within yourself your own lamp of spiritual light and knowledge, so as to walk without stumbling in the dark night of this age: and if you wish your steps to be ordered by the Lord, delighting in the way of the Gospel - that is, desiring with ardent faith to hold fast to the most perfect gospel commandments, and to share in the sufferings of the Lord through aspirations and prayer - then I will show you a wonderful spiritual method to help you achieve this. It does not call for bodily exertion, but requires effort of the soul, control of the intellect, and an attentive understanding, assisted by fear and love of God. Through this method you can easily put to flight the hordes of the enemy, like the blessed David, who through his faith and trust in God destroyed Goliath, the giant of the Philistines (cf I Sam. 17: 45), and with the help of his own people easily put to flight the great host of the enemy.
Imagine that there are three powerful and mighty giants of the Philistines, upon whom depends the whole hostile army of the demonic Holofemes (cf. Judith 2:4). When these three have been overthrown and slain, all the power of the demons is fatally weakened.
These three giants are. the vices already mentioned: ignorance, the source of all evils; forgetfulness, its close relation and helper; and laziness, which weaves the dark shroud enveloping the soul in murk. This third vice supports and strengthens the other two, consolidating them so that evil becomes deep-rooted and persistent in the negligent soul. Laziness, forgetfulness and ignorance in their turn support and strengthen the other passions. Helping each other, and unable to hold their position apart from one another, they are the mainstay and the chief leaders of the devil's army. Through them the whole of this army infiltrates into the soul and is enabled to achieve its objectives, which otherwise it could not do.
If then you wish to conquer these three passions and easily to put to flight the hordes of the demonic Philistines, enter within yourself through prayer and with the help of God. Descend into the depths of the heart, and search out these three powerful giants of the devil -forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance, the support of the demonic Philistines - which enable the rest of the evil passions to infiltrate and be active, to live and prevail in the hearts of the self- indulgent and in the souls of the unmstructed. Then through strict attention and control of the intellect, together with help from above, you will track down these evil passions, about which most men are ignorant, not even suspecting their existence, but which are more destructive than all the rest. Take up the weapons of righteousness that are directly opposed to them: mindfulness of God, for this is the cause of all blessings: the light of spiritual knowledge, through which the soul awakens from its slumber and drives out of itself the darkness of ignorance, and true ardor, which makes the soul eager for salvation.
So, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with all prayer and entreaty, you will contend bravely against the three giants of the demonic Philistines. Through mindfulness of God, you will always reflect on 'whatever is true, whatever is modest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, whatever is holy and deserving of praise' (Phil. 4:8); and in this way you will banish from yourself the pernicious evil of forgetfulness. Through the light of spiritual knowledge you will expel the destructive darkness of ignorance: and through your true ardor for all that is good you will drive out the godless laziness that enables evil to root itself in the soul. When by deep attentiveness and prayer you have acquired these virtues, not only through your own personal choice, but also through the power of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to deliver yourself from the three powerful giants of the devil For when real knowledge, mindfulness of God's word and true ardor are firmly established in the soul through active grace and are carefully guarded, the combination of these three expels from the soul and obliterates every trace of forgetfulness, ignorance, and laziness, and henceforth grace reigns