Tag Archive: Ladder of Divine Ascent

Just as bread is the most necessary of all foods, so the thought of death is the most essential of all works. The remembrance of death brings labors and meditations, or rather, the sweetness of dishonor to those living in community, whereas for those living away from turbulence it produces freedom from daily worries and breeds constant prayer and guarding of the mind, virtues that are the cause and the effect of the thought of death.

~ St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 6

I have written before on the remembrance of death, but having just read St. John Climacus’s treatment of the subject (which is short, profound, and highly recommended), and since it has been a while, surely I have room for another reflection on the same subject. After all, if it is truly “the most essential of all works,” then I can’t imagine a limit to what of value can be said about it. Continue reading


In Defense of a Double Standard

Who in the outside world has worked wonders, raised the dead, expelled demons? No one. Such deeds are done by monks. It is their reward. People in the secular life cannot do these things, for, if they could, what then would be the point of ascetic practice and the solitary life?

~ St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 2

This statement by St. John Climacus might be scandalous to some, especially if I have any readers from a more “charismatic” strain of Christian piety. Indeed, he might be overstating his case a bit (really, “No one”?), but I find this saying, in general, to be a helpful caution.

Contrast this with the following from the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Continue reading

An Ordinary Achievement

Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?”

I answered: “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

~ St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned “the tyranny of the ordinary.” By that I meant the way in which our daily routines can dominate our lives. But this passage from the Ladder is a helpful corrective. The ordinary can be oppressive, but it can also be an achievement. Continue reading

A friend of God is the one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can…. Withdrawal from the world is a willing hatred of all that is materially prized, a denial of nature for the sake of what is above nature.

St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1

The wisdom of the fathers can be hard to decipher. Sometimes they seem to completely contradict the conventional wisdom. Other times, like this quote from St. John Climacus, they seem to contradict themselves. These two sentences are, in fact, found in the very same paragraph, the one in the middle and the other at the end. While I understand the impulse of many (including scholars at times) to rashly declare any apparent contradiction a true contradiction, the more charitable (and more careful and respectful) assumption would be to assume that apparent contradictions are not simply contradictions, but rather that they are simply apparent. That is, beneath the surface they speak a high nuance of thought worth slowing down to consider.

So then, if a friend of God is “one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin [etc.],” how is it that the same writer recommends “a denial of nature for the sake of what is above nature”? What is the distinction? Are we to live in communion with nature or deny it? Can these two statements be reconciled? Continue reading