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Ladder of Divine Ascent

This holy father, Saint John Climacus, lived and struggled for a whole lifetime on the God-trodden Mountain of Sinai, having entered the monastic struggles while but a youth in his teens. For forty years, he lived as a hermit at Thola, about five miles fom the moastery. Later he became the abbot of Sinai. At that time, the monastery erected by the Emperor Justinian, which stands intact to this day, was already in existence. It was built at the site of the Burning Bush and dedicated in those years to the Transfiguration of our Lord. Our holy Father John stood in prayer often below the great mosaic of the Holy Transfiguration which is the apse behind the Holy Table, and which can be seen to this day. He lived to the age of eighty, having reposed in the Lord in the year 603.

It was during the time that he was abbot that he wrote, among other things, the Klimax, the Ladder, from which his name is derived. In this God-inspired book, he has written observations and teaching which are taken from his long experience as an ascetic and struggler against the passions. They are observations of a veteran of many wars, of a struggler in God and gictorious hoplite who himself mounted the ladder of Jacob, reached the summit, and entered into the cloud of unknowing, being propelled by the love of God. And for the love of his neighbour, he left behind him this Ladder of Divine Ascent, as Elias of old his mantle. But whereas Elias did not leave us his chariot to mount to the heavens, this holy one left us the means whereby we also migh climb with labours, vigilance, and prayers, and reach the ineffable beauty of that Countenance and the unutterable gladness of those that keep festival in the marvellous tabernacle, the very house of our God (cf. Ps. 41:4).

Pope John Paul II on "The Ladder"

The Monastery of the Transfiguration and Saint Catherine bears all the marks of time and human turmoil, but it stands indomitable as a witness to divine wisdom and love.  For centuries monks from all Christian traditions lived and prayed together in this Monastery, listening to the Word, in whom dwells the fullness of the Father’s wisdom and love.  In this very Monastery, Saint John Climacus, wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a spiritual masterpiece that continues to inspire monks and nuns, from East and West, generation after generation.

Let us reflect for a moment on this mystical "ascent" that finds in the earthly pilgrimage an image and a sign.  We will do so through the words of a seventh-century Christian writer who was abbot of the monastery on Sinai.

This is John Climacus who dedicated an entire treatise - The Ladder of Divine Ascent - to illustrating the countless steps by which the spiritual life ascends.  At the end of his work, he gives the last word to charity itself, which he sets at the top of the ladder of spiritual progress.

It is charity that invites and exhorts us, proposing sentiments and attitudes already suggested by our Psalm: "Ascend, my brothers, ascend eagerly.  Let your hearts' resolve be to climb.  Listen to the voice of the one who says: "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God" (Is 2,3), Who makes our feet to be like the feet of the deer, "Who sets us on the high places, that we may be triumphant on his road" (Hb 3,19).  Run, I beg you, run with him who said, "let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature manhood, at the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness" (cf.  Eph 4,13).  (La Scala del Paradiso, Rome 1989, p.  355.  In English, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Paulist Press, Ramsey, N.J.  1982, p.  291).

Pope Benedict XVI on "The Ladder"

John Climacus, who lived approximately between 575 and 650, became famous with his treatise on the spiritual life, called the "Ladder to Perfection."

The Holy Father today considered John's teachings in the treatise, which he summarized in three stages.

The first stage is renouncing the world and a return to "true childlikeness in the spiritual sense," he said. The second is the fight against the passions. In this stage, each rung of the ladder is linked to a passion, which, the Pontiff explained, is "defined and diagnosed, indicating as well the therapy and proposing the corresponding virtue."

"The whole of these steps undoubtedly constitutes the most important treatise of the spiritual strategy that we possess," he said. "The fight against the passions is seen in a positive light -- it's not viewed as a negative thing -- thanks to the image of the 'fire' of the Holy Spirit."

Finally, in the third stage, the path of Christian perfection is developed with seven rungs.

Benedict XVI explained: "These are the highest phases of the spiritual life. […] "The last rung of the scale […] is dedicated to the supreme 'trinity of virtues': faith, hope and above all, charity. Regarding charity, John speaks also of eros -- human love -- figure of the matrimonial union of the soul with God. And he chooses yet again the image of fire to express the ardor, light and purification of love by God. […] "John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros makes the soul advance more than the hard fight against the passions, because its power is great."

At the end of the ladder comes God himself, who John portrays as saying: "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the top of this ladder, as that great mystic of mine said -- St. Paul: Now therefore three things remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love."

Lesson The Pope acknowledged that it could seem that John's teaching cannot say anything to today's Christian.

"But," he said, "if we look a little closer, we see that such a monastic life is only a great symbol of the life of the baptized, of Christian life. It shows, to say it one way, in large letters what we write every day with little letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what is the life of the baptized, in communion with Christ, with his death and resurrection."

And, he noted: "For me, it is of particular importance the fact that the culmination of the scale, the last rungs, are at the same time the fundamental, initial, simplest virtues: faith, hope and charity.

"These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes, but are the gift of God for all the baptized. In them our life too grows. The beginning is also the end; the starting point is also the arriving point."

Thus, the Holy Father called Christians to learn from John's teaching on the theological virtues, particularly hope that makes charity possible.

"Only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, our life is made great and we can bear the tiredness and disillusionment of each day, we can be good to others without expecting a reward," he said.

"Let us use, therefore, this ladder of faith, of hope and of charity," the Pontiff concluded, "and we will thus arrive to true life."

Permission to publish excerpts:

We hereby give you our permission to publish daily excerpts from the Ladder, on the condition that credit is given us for the translation for all excerpts used, and also that the total excerpts will not total more than half of any one chapter/step in the book.

Pachomius, monk

The translation utilized for the postings is:


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