The aim of the treatise of St. John Climacus, the Divine Ladder of Ascent, is to be a guide for practicing a life completely and wholly devoted to God – its ultimate aim is Theosis – a complete union and oneness in Love with God. The ladder metaphor—not dissimilar to the vision that the Patriarch Jacob received—is used to describe how one may ascend into heaven by first renouncing the world and finally ending up in heaven with God. There are thirty chapters, some say corresponding to the thirty years of Christ’s earthly life prior to his ministry; and each covers a particular vice or virtue. They were originally called logoi (the words) but in the present-day, they are referred to as “steps.” The sayings are not so much rules and regulations, as with the Law that St. Moses received at Sinai, but rather observations about what is being practiced, of what we can become by grace through the energies of God through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit in every decision we make of each day. Metaphorical language is employed frequently to better illustrate the nature of virtue and vice. Overall, the treatise does follow a progression that transitions from start (renunciation of the world) to finish a life lived in love.
The steps are:
- On renunciation of the world
- On detachment
- On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have
- On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
- On painstaking and true repentance
- On remembrance of death
- On joy-making in mourning
- On freedom from anger and on meekness
- On remembrance of wrongs
- On slander or calumny
- On talkativenesss and silence
- On lying
- On despondency
- On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
- On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
- On love of money, or avarice
- On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
- On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
- On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood/ the Church
- On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, how to practice it
- On unmanly and puerile cowardice
- On the many forms of vainglory
- On mad pride and on unclean blasphemous thoughts
- On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness which come not from nature but from conscious effort.
- On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception
- On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment
- On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them
- On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
- Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
- Love. Fullness of Union. Concerning the linking together of the supreme Trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book.
Like with other ascetical, monastic and spiritual texts, this one should be read carefully. Since the original audience were those practicing the monastic life, the language is very strong when contrasting the life of the world and the life devoted to God. This is one of the reasons why this work should be read under the guidance of a spiritual father. This work can be read at once with careful attention and intense concentration, trying to replicate as much as possible of the monastic life, since all of us are called to be “monastic” from ‘monos’ meaning ‘singular’ in passion and focus on GOd. Yet it can also be read in its individual steps as well. The bottom line is that a spiritual father should be there as a guiding hand with this work.