Ladder of Divine Ascent | St. John Climacus


The Ladder of Divine Ascent
St. John Climacus
(c. 579 – 649 AD)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, or Ladder of Paradise (Κλίμαξ; Scala or Climax Paradisi), is an important ascetical treatise for monasticism in Eastern Christianity written by St. John Climacus in ca. AD 600 at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery situated on the shores of the Red Sea.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which obtained an immense popularity and has made its author famous in the Church, is addressed to anchorites and cenobites and treats of the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained.

Divided into 30 parts, or "steps", in memory of the 30 years of the life of Christ, the Divine model of the religious, the work is mostly written in a concise, sententious form, with the aid of aphorisms.

It presents a picture of all the virtues and contains a great many parables and historical touches, drawn principally from the monastic life, and exhibiting the practical application of the precepts.

A very few details are known of the Saint John Climacus, also known as John of the Ladder, the author of this work. It is believed he was born c. 579 in Syria and lived about 70 years and died in March of 649 in a Monastery of the famous Mount Sinai (in Egypt).

St. John came to the Vatos Monastery at Mount Sinai, now Saint Catherine's Monastery, and became a novice when he was about 16 years old.

He was taught about the spiritual life by the elder monk Martyrius.

After the death of Martyrius, John, wishing to practice greater asceticism, withdrew to a hermitage at the foot of the mountain.

In this isolation he lived for some 20 years, constantly studying the lives of the saints and thus becoming one of the most learned Church Fathers.

When he was about 55 years of age, the monks of Sinai persuaded him to become their Hegumen.

He acquitted himself of his functions as abbot with the greatest wisdom, and his reputation spread so far that, according to some sources, Pope Gregory the Great wrote to recommend himself to his prayers, and sent him a sum of money for the hospital of Sinai, in which the pilgrims could stay.


1–4: Renunciation of the world and obedience to a spiritual father

1. On renunciation of the world, or asceticism

2. On detachment

3. On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have

4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals)

5–7: Penitence and affliction as paths to true joy

5. On painstaking and true repentance, which constitutes the life of the holy convicts, and about the Prison

6. On remembrance of death

7. On joy-making mourning

8–17: Defeat of vices and acquisition of virtue

8. On freedom from anger and on meekness

9. On remembrance of wrongs

10. On slander or calumny

11. On talkativeness and silence

12. On lying

13. On despondency

14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach

15. On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat

16. On love of money, or avarice

17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)

18–26: Avoidance of the traps of asceticism (laziness, pride, mental stagnation

18. On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body

19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood

20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practice it

21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice

22. On the many forms of vainglory

23. On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts

24. On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness, which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and on guile

25. On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception

26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned

27–29: Acquisition of hesychia, or peace of the soul, of prayer, and of apatheia (dispassion or equanimity with respect to afflictions or suffering

27. On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them

28. On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer

29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection

30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book.