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The Ladder of Paradise icon (St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt) showing monks ascending (and falling from) the ladder to Jesus

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 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 Scala, 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 thirty parts, or "steps", in memory of the thirty years of the life of Christ, the Divine model of the religious, 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. At the same time, as the work is mostly written in a concise, sententious form, with the aid of aphorisms, and as the reasonings are not sufficiently closely connected, it is at times somewhat obscure. This explains its having been the subject of various commentaries, even in very early times. The most ancient of the manuscripts containing the Scala is found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and was probably brought from Florence by Catherine de' Medici. In some of these manuscripts, the work bears the title of "Spiritual Tables" (Plakes pneumatikai).

Steps or Rungs on the Ladder to Heaven

The Scala consists of 30 chapters, or "rungs",

  • 1–4: Renouncement of the world and obedience to a spiritual father
    • 1. Περί αποταγής (On renunciation of the world, or asceticism)
    • 2. Περί απροσπαθείας (On detachment)
    • 3. Περί ξενιτείας (On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have)
    • 4. Περί υπακοής (On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals))
  • 5–7: Penitence and affliction (πένθος) as paths to true joy
    • 5. Περί μετανοίας (On painstaking and true repentance, which constitutes the life of the holy convicts, and about the Prison)
    • 6. Περί μνήμης θανάτου (On remembrance of death)
    • 7. Περί του χαροποιού πένθους (On joy-making mourning)
  • 8–17: Defeat of vices and acquisition of virtue
    • 8. Περί αοργησίας (On freedom from anger and on meekness)
    • 9. Περί μνησικακίας (On remembrance of wrongs)
    • 10. Περί καταλαλιάς (On slander or calumny)
    • 11. Περί πολυλογίας και σιωπής (On talkativeness and silence)
    • 12. Περί ψεύδους (On lying)
    • 13. Περί ακηδίας (On despondency)
    • 14. Περί γαστριμαργίας (On that clamorous mistress, the stomach)
    • 15. Περί αγνείας (On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat)
    • 16. Περί φιλαργυρίας (On love of money, or avarice)
    • 17. Περί αναισθησίας (On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards))
  • 18–26: Avoidance of the traps of asceticism (laziness, pride, mental stagnation)
    • 18. Περί ύπνου και προσευχής (On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body)
    • 19. Περί αγρυπνίας (On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood)
    • 20. Περί δειλίας (On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practice it)
    • 21. Περί κενοδοξίας (On unmanly and puerile cowardice)
    • 22. Περί υπερηφανείας (On the many forms of vainglory)
    • 23. Περί λογισμών βλασφημίας (On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts)
    • 24. Περί πραότητος και απλότητος (On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness, which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and on guile)
    • 25. Περί ταπεινοφροσύνης (On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception)
    • 26. Περί διακρίσεως (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. Περί ησυχίας (On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them)
    • 28. Περί προσευχής (On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer)
    • 29. Περί απαθείας (Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection)
  • 30. Περί αγάπης, ελπίδος και πίστεως (Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book)

It was translated into Latin by Ambrogio the Camaldolese (Ambrosius Camaldulensis) (Venice, 1531 and 1569; Cologne, 1583, 1593, with a commentary by Denis the Carthusian; and 1601). The Greek of the Scala, with the scholia of Elias, Archbishop of Crete, and also the text of the "Liber ad Pastorem", were published by Matthæus Raderus with a Latin translation (Paris, 1633). The whole is reproduced in P.G., vol. 88 (Paris, 1860). Translations of the Scala have been published in Spanish by Louis of Granada (Salamanca, 1551), in Italian (Venice, 1585), in modern Greek by Maximus Margunius, Bishop of Cerigo (Venice, 1590), and in French by Arnauld d'Andilly (Paris, 1688). The last-named of these translations is preceded by a life of the saint by Le Maistre de Sacy. One translation of the Scala, La Escala Espiritual de San Juan Clímaco, became the first book printed in the Americas, in 1532.[1]

See also

The Ladder of Divine Ascent 12th-century icon (St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt) showing monks ascending (and falling from) the ladder to Jesus


This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

  • Fr. John Mack, Ascending the Heights - A Layman's Guide to The Ladder of Divine Ascent, ISBN 1-888212-17-9.


External links

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