John Climacus, St.
JOHN CLIMACUS, ST.
Abbot, ascetic, and writer on the spiritual life (also known as 'Ιωάννης ὁ τ[symbol omitted]ς κλίμακος and John the Scholastic) ; b. 579; d. 649. Details of his life are unknown. His Heavenly Ladder, κλ[symbol omitted]μαξ το[symbol omitted] παραδείσου, was one of the most widely used Greek handbooks of the ascetic life. Its popularity with lay as well as monastic readers is attested by the existence of 33 illustrated Greek manuscripts, plus an uncounted number of copies without illustration—so large a number of manuscripts being responsible for the fact that there is as yet no critical edition. The work was translated into Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, and Church Slavonic, as well as a number of modern languages.
The Ladder, written while the author was abbot of the monastery at Mt. Sinai, shows striking psychological insight, stemming from his acute powers of observation and deep knowledge of the spiritual life. As the title indicates, the ascetic life is portrayed in the form of a ladder that the monk must ascend, each step on the ladder representing a virtue that must be acquired or a vice that must be eradicated. There are 30 steps, representing the 30 years of the hidden life of Christ, before the beginning of His public ministry. Each step is the subject of a chapter in which the author describes the virtue or vice in question and shows the way in which it is to be acquired or eliminated.
After undergoing discipline as a novice, the monk has to gain a solid footing on each step as he masters in succession such qualities as obedience, meekness, chastity, temperance, poverty, humility, and discretion or comes in his progress to the steps at which he has to deal with malice, slander, sloth, gluttony, avarice, vainglory, pride, etc. As the monk toils upward he has to fight off the attacks of demons who seek to tear him from the ladder and hurl him into the abyss. Finally the monk, if he passes successfully through all trials, reaches step 30, titled Faith, Hope, and Charity, and there receives the crown of glory from the hand of Christ.
John Climacus was evidently familiar with the works of earlier ascetic writers, and, though his treatment and point of view are his own, his book shows similarities in method and arrangement to the collection of sayings of holy men preserved in a Latin translation of a Greek original under the title Verba seniorum. The Ladder had widespread and important influence on later Greek ascetic writers, especially the Hesychasts (see hesychasm), and was popular in monasteries in Slavic countries. sym eon the new theologian was especially indebted to his lifelong study of the Ladder.
Feast: March 30.
Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1857–66) 88:632–1161. john climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, tr. l. moore, intro. m. heppell (New York 1959) ; Scala paradisi, ed. p. trevisan, 2 v. (Turin 1941). l. petit, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 8.1:690–693. j. r. martin, The Illustrations of the Heavenly Ladder of John Climacus (Princeton Studies in MS Illumination 5; Princeton 1954). j. chryssavgis, Ascent to Heaven: The Theology of the Human Person according to Saint John of the Ladder (Brookline, Mass. 1989). j. mack, Ascending the Heights: A Layman's Guide to the Ladder of Divine Ascent (Ben Lomond, Calif. 1999).