circa 580-680








With the monks of Gaza: Barsanuphius, John and Dorotheus, we were in southern Palestine, in the first half of the fifth century. They were contemporary with St Benedict. Now, with John Climacus we have moved further south to the Sinai peninsula, and nearly a century later, for John Climacus lived sometime between 580 and 680. We know little about his life; the only source is a short text by Daniel of Ra´thou who claimed to be a contemporary of John, but did not know which country he came from!

We know that he received a good intellectual formation. At sixteen his thought was already mature, he was only a novice! He put himself under the tutelage of an elder of the monastery of Mount Sinai. He received the monastic tonsure and became a monk when he was twenty.
His spiritual father died, and John went to lead the solitary life in Tholas, at the foot of the Holy Mountain. He retired to a cave near a group of anchorites who lived there. He experienced acedia, but also the gift of tears and continual prayer. He stayed there for forty years.

However, he did travel a little, and he visited the monks of Egypt.
A monastery of penitents where he stayed for a month made a great impression on him, and he often mentions them in his writings.

As happens with every true man of God, he became a radiant personality and attracted disciples. He was a celebrated spiritual father whom many came to consult. His writings show that he saw much and heard even more. A monk called Moses became his disciple. John's influence aroused envy and people reproached him for his pastoral work. He kept silent for a whole year, and by his humble patience won over the hearts of his accusers.

Then he was chosen as superior of the monastery of Sinai. It was certainly at this time that he wrote his book: "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". In the following centuries he was called: 'John of Sinai', or 'John Climacus', which means: 'John of the Ladder' (klimakis = ladder).

A monk at 20 and hermit for 40 years, then superior for some years, John must have reached a great age. When he was old, he handed over his responsibilities to his brother George who survived him by only ten months. John retired into solitude again and died between 650 and 680.



John has left us one book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is an important work, more by its content than its length, for it is only one book in thirty chapters, followed by a Letter to a Shepherd which is a small treatise for the use of superiors or spiritual fathers.

The book is important because it is the product of a period of transition and synthesis.

John is a monk who has experienced both the summit of monastic life - the deification of man by the uncreated Light, and the way that leads there. It is this way which he retraces for his monks on a practical level.

We find here the teaching he has received from tradition: the practical experience of the Apophthegmata, an echo of the doctrine of Evagrius on the capital sins, and on the relationship between praxis, (asceticism and the practise of the commandments), and theoria, contemplation. His spiritual realism, his insistence on obedience and discernment, come from meditating on the writings of the monks of Gaza.

He has also read the Greek Fathers of the patristic Golden Age and retained the sense of the grandeur and the fragility of humanity, and above all of the redemption and trinitarian theology.

It is this plenitude of doctrine united to a remarkable gift of discernment which gives John Climacus an important place in the Eastern Church among the doctors of spirituality and asceticism. We should approach him as disciples to a master, ready to see what God wishes to say to us in his writings, while realising that, like the Apophthegmata and the Fathers of Gaza, we do not have in them a complete doctrine of the spiritual life.

The presentation under the form of a 'Ladder' is familiar. We have found degrees in the discourse of Pinufius, and in the Institutes of Cassian. Origen had already presented the ladder of Jacob as a symbol of spiritual progress. St Benedict took up the image, and here Climacus retraces the steps.

What are these steps?



1. Break with the world
1) Renunciation = Faith 1
2) Interior detachment = Hope 2
3) Exterior detachment = Charity 3

2. 'Active Life' : Asceticism
A. Fundamental virtues:
1) Obedience 4
2) Repentance 5
3) Remembrance of death 6
4) Penthos 7

B. Struggle against the passions:
1) From anger to acedia 8-13
2) Gluttony, lust & avarice 14-17
3) From insensitivity to pride 18-23

C. Summit of the 'Active Life' :
1) Simplicity 24
2) Humility 25
3) Discernment 26

3. 'Theoria' : Union with God
1) Hesychia 27
2) Prayer 28
3) Apatheia 29
4) Charity 30


We can find three parts in the degrees set out by John Climacus The first deals with the first conversion which is entrance into the monastery. The two others deal with the two divisions of the spiritual life given by Evagrius: 'Active life 'and 'Theoria'.

1.Break with the world

The first step of the first part is renunciation of the world. John gives three motives which recall the three classic degrees: slave, mercenary, son (Text 1). Renunciation is a journey in faith which will be hard in the beginning, but will open out in love and joy (Text 2-3) Then John gives us the two components: interior detachment or exile leading to hope, (Text 4), and exterior detachment or exile which he calls voluntary exile, that is, entrance into the monastery (Text 5). Then one is motivated by real charity

2.Active Life

Then comes an account of the 'Active Life':
A. First come the virtues. They obviously refer back to the Desert Fathers: obedience, repentance, remembrance of death and penthos, the account of these virtues is illustrated by many anecdotes and stories.

Voluntary exile is entrance into the monastery, so John now addresses himself to monks and cenobites. He puts obedience first, and says a lot about it. Obedience is an act of faith (Text 6). It is important because normally it leads to humility and apatheia. To prove it, John calls to mind the monastery of Penitents where he had once stayed for a month, (Text 7). He concludes: (Text 8). He explains why obedience leads to humility (Text 9). This is the outlook of the Desert Fathers who demanded from their disciples unconditional obedience to the abba whom they had chosen. According to John, confidence in the superior is the basis of obedience (Texts 10-11).

After a chapter on repentence and on remembrance of death, John calls the next chapter: "The affliction which brings joy". This is penthos : sadness at not having loved enough (Text 12) which leads to humility (Text 13), but also to tears of love (Text 14). These tears are a gift from on high which manifest the presence and action of God. (Text 15). Only then can penthos really be called the: "affliction which brings joy" (Texts 16-17).

B. The account of the "Active Life" continues with the vices and their opposite virtues. John speaks of eight capital vices (13:11) but it is not easy to tell which they are among all the vices of which he speaks. They are not the same as those mentioned by Evagrius and Cassian. He seems to attach particular importance to six. He gives them in pairs according to the Stoic divisions of the soul: anger and acedia are concerned with the 'irascible' part; gluttony, or more exactly 'over-eating', and lust with the 'concupiscible' part; the 'rational' part are insensitivity or 'carelessness which has become a habit', vainglory and pride which John classes together, although he has a step for each on his ladder.

First anger. According to Evagrius it was the greatest obstacle to prayer, and John agrees (Text 18). Similar to anger is resentment, harbouring injuries in another form (Text 19). Anger gives birth to slander which gives rise to gossip. Against these, John praises silence (Text 20). Anger and the vices which flow from it lead to acedia. Like Evagrius, John Climacus calls it the "weightiest of all the vices"; and he too paints an amusing picture of it at work (Text 21). The common life is a great help in overcoming these two leading vices.

Then come the vices which have the body as their target: gluttony and lust to which John adds avarice. The stomach (Text 22). He who has conquered says John "makes big strides on the road to chastity". The fifteenth step of the Ladder praises this virtue (Text 23). It aims at the transfiguration of the body and transforms human love into divine love.

The Desert Fathers, Evagrius and Cassian, denounced vainglory and pride as the most difficult vices to eradicate. They are also found at the end of John's catalogue of vices; vainglory is the mother of pride (Text 24). The pride which magnifies itself is really a sign of great poverty (Text 25). These two vices are the perversion of every virtue and the 'shipwreck in the harbour'.


C. John shows us the fruit to be hadat the end of the struggle against the passions: the 'Active Life' is crowned by three virtues: discernment, simplicity and humility.

Discernment: the purified soul knows itself, and it has reached the stage when it knows the will of God. It has entered a new world where it participates in the simplicity of God (Text 26). The end of this text shows humility united to simplicity. It is a priceless gift of Him who said: "Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart". It is the imitation of Christ, the Gateway into the Kingdom, a tranquil haven. This is what the monk must espouse (Text 27); for it is the daughter of God (Text 28).


At the summit of the Ladder, the integrated soul is ready for union with God, for Theoria. John describes it with the help of four almost interchangeable terms: hesychia, prayer, apatheia, charity. The ladder of St Benedict shows us interior humility outwardly demonstrated in our bearing. Here too, one cannot distinguish between behaviour and being.

John's predecessors thought anger was the enemy of prayer. For John too the preparation for prayer is the absence of bitterness (Text 32). Prayer is a matter of faith (Text 33). It is not always easy (Text 34); it is linked with the reality of our everyday lives (Text 35). Prayer demands perseverance (Text 36). God is the master of prayer and it is his gift (Text 37); and through it he shows us the state of our soul (Text 38). It is characteristic of John that he insists on simplicity in prayer (Text 39). He recommends the prayer of a single word, the brief and repeated invocation of the Name of Jesus as we breathe (27:62). This unwearying repetition of a brief invocation frees the soul from a multitude of thoughts. It gradually leads us to the constant remembrance of God (Text 40). So one attains continual prayer which can then intensify the moments set aside for more formal prayer (Text 41).

Then the divine fire sweeps through the soul: "Some people come from prayer as though they were leaving a burning furnace" (54). We are reminded again here of the Apophthegmata: the old man who became fire! Our angel will come to pray in us then (Text 42). This is a precious text which teaches us to benefit from the moments when prayer rises spontaneously in our hearts.


A small work called "The Shepherd" is appended to the Ladder; it consists of advice to superiors and spiritual fathers.

The superior or spiritual father is a shepherd (9-11), but John also compares him to the sheepdog (12), to a pilot but above all to a doctor (14). He should not take credit for the good he does, but attribute it to the faith of those whom he guides. Here we have an echo of the Apophthegmata (Felix t.12) and Cassian (end of Conf. 1) (Text 47). As in the Apophthegmata too, his teaching must be adapted to each person (36). Above all, he must identify himself with the Lord, Christ (Text 48) whose teaching must be rooted in his heart. Once it has taken root, he "carries within him the spiritual book of knowledge, written by the finger of God, the illumination that is that he bestows, and the Pastor has no need of any other book"(5). In the same sense, John concludes his book in these words (Text 49).



One could reproach John Climacus for his emphasis on an "angry God" or "policeman-God". Did he not impute to "the wicked Origen the baneful disease which insists on the love of God for man"! (5:52). Of course he is referring to the theory which denies that hell lasts for ever, which is, perhaps mistakenly attributed to Origen. But all the same it is significant! This does not appear in the choice of texts presented here. But if we read the text of the Ladder in its entirety, we might, in the first reading, be offended by some expressions of John's which seem too hard; sometimes his severity seems almost inhuman.

John is first of all a pastor. Like Basil, he is concerned that his sheep do not stray, that they walk on the right way, and he uses the point of his crook to poke them. But also he is convinced that the monk is one who takes the Gospel seriously, and he asks 'more' from him who would be perfect. John emphasizes a "holy evangelical violence" which must be like an unquenchable fire in him (Text 50). The monk must not be content with being a good Christian, he must follow Christ, embrace his cross so as to attain his resurrection and the deification of his whole being. This is not a matter of choice, but the logic of an evangelical radicalism, the sense of the claims of a God of love crucified by love, and the certainty of the help of grace.

However this endeavour will be adapted to each person. Discernment has a place in the teaching of John , as a disciple of the Desert Fathers. If each person must do all he can to follow the Gospel in all its radicality, it is still "what he can". The discernment which John recommends to the pastor takes into account both the claims of God and the capabilities of the person.

Moreover, humility has first place. The most advanced monks are not those who consider themselves great ascetics or great contemplatives, but those who are convinced that they are unworthy monks and who say continually: "I am beginning again". For John the foundation of the spiritual life is penthos, penitence. Its end is charity.

It is within this subtle perspective that we must understand the seemingly extreme element in John's teaching. It's objective is the relationship of man with God, his transfiguration and personal, total communion with his Creator.



John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Translated by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell. Introduction by Kallistos Ware. Classics of Western Spirituality.







1) What does the word 'Climacus' mean, and when did John live in relation to St Benedict?

2) Why is the work of John important?

3) Explain in what way we find the teaching of the Fathers from earlier monasticism in John Climacus.

4) Can you give some notes on the teaching of John on prayer.





1. 1:26

The one who renounces the world through fear is like burning incense. First he spreads a fragrant aroma, but it ends in smoke. The one who renounces the world through the hope of reward is like a wheel constantly turning on itself. But the one who leaves the world though divine love is set on fire within from the beginning; and like a forest fire, spreads into a great conflagration.

2. 1:20

Those who, while clothed in a body, venture to ascend to heaven, must necessarily do violence to themselves and suffer continually, particularly at the beginning of their renunciation, until their instinct for pleasure and their insensitive hearts have been changed through compunction into a sound disposition of love of God and of purity.

3. 1:31

At the beginning of our renunciation, for sure, we will find much labour and bitter affliction in practising the virtues. But when we have made some progress, we shall have no more affliction, or very little. And when our earthly mind has been consumed and mastered by zeal, we shall practice them with joy, lightness of heart and love, and with a divine flame.

4. 2:1

One who truly loves the Lord, and truly seeks to possess the Kingdom to come, who feels true sorrow for his faults, who truly keeps eternal punishment in mind, who is truly afraid of his death; such a man has no other love, nor anxiety, no concern for money, for his possessions, for his relatives for the glory of the world, for his friends, for his brothers or anything whatsoever on the earth. Having rejected every attachment and every care about such things, even about his own flesh, he follows Christ, dispossessed and without care, looking eagerly towards heaven and waiting for help from there according to the words of the holy king: "I have not grown tired of following you, and I do not look for the day or the ease of men, O Lord".

5. 3:1

Voluntary exile is to leave behind irrevocably everything in our homeland which stops us attaining our goal: to love God. Voluntary exile implies self-control, a wisdom which remains unknown, veiled prudence, a hidden life, a yearning for what is contemptible, a passion for what mortifies, a desire for the immutable God, an abundance of love, renunciation of vain glory and an abyss of silence.

6. 4:9

The Fathers teach that psalmody is a weapon, prayer a rampart and pure tears a bath. But blessed obedience they compared to the act of faith; for without it, no man subject to the passions can see God.

7. 4:23

I saw there men who had passed nearly fifty years in obedience. When I begged them to tell me what consolation they had found in such hard labour, some replied that they had reached the lowest depths of humility; others said that they had obtained perfect indifference and freedom from all distress amid injuries and insults.

8. 4:78

Humility comes from obedience, and from humility comes impassibility. It is written: "The Lord remembered us in our humility, and he has delivered us from our enemies". So we can declare that obedience leads to impassibility, which brings humility to perfection. Humility is the beginning of impassibility, as Moses is the beginning of the law.

9. 4:60

One day I questioned one of the most experienced fathers, and asked him how humility is achieved through obedience. He answered: "A wise and obedient monk, even if he raises the dead or receives the gift of tears, or has been freed from all struggle, thinks that all this is due to the prayer of his spiritual father. He is far from any presumption. How could he take pride in something which he admits is due to the help of his spiritual father, and not to his own efforts?"

10. 4:7

It is absolutely necessary that those who wish to have unshakeable confidence in their superiors keep a constant and indelible remembrance of their good deeds in their hearts. So when the demons sow distrust, they can silence them by these memories.

The more a heart grows confident, the more zealous the body is to serve. One who stumbles over distrust has already fallen.

11. 4:133

If your superior reproves you constantly, and your love and confidence in him grows proportionally, is because the Holy Spirit has come to dwell invisibly in your soul, and the Power of the Most High has overshadowed you. But do not pride yourself or rejoice when you courageously put up with insults and humiliations. Rather bemoan what you have done to merit such treatment which has disturbed his soul and provoked him against you.

12. 7:45

Is there anyone who has spent all his monastic life so piously that he has not lost a day, nor an hour, nor a single moment, but has spent them all for the Lord, realising that one never has the same day twice in one's life?

13. 5:42

One who weeps over himself does not count his tears, nor the fault of his neighbour, nor the reproaches that come his way.


Groans and sadness cry to the Lord. Tears caused by fear intercede in our favour. But the tears of holy love show us that our prayer has been accepted.

15. 7:28

In nature as in compunction, we must distinguish what rises spontaneously and what comes from elsewhere. When our soul, without any deliberate effort on our part, feels itself melt in tears and is filled with tenderness, let us run! For the Lord has come uninvited, and he gives us the sponge of sadness which is precious to him, and the refreshing water of tears pleasing to God to wipe away the debt of our sins. Guard these tears as the apple of your eye as long as they last. Great is the power of this compunction, far superior to that which comes from our own efforts and our meditation.

16. 7:54

When I ponder the nature of compunction, I am astonished. How can what we think of as affliction and sadness contain such joy and gladness hidden in its breast, like honey in a comb? Compunction is a special gift from the Lord, and God secretly consoles the broken heart.

17. 7:44

One who has put on the wedding garment of blessed affliction and overflowing grace knows spiritual laughter in the soul.


18. 8:18

The Holy Spirit is called the peace of the soul - and so it is. Anger is called disturbance of the heart - and so it is. Nothing so hinders the coming of the Holy Spirit within us as anger.

19. 9:12

You will know that you are completely free from the infection of resentment, not just by praying for the one who offended you, nor by exchanging presents with him, nor by inviting him to a meal, but on learning that he has fallen into some bodily or spiritual misfortune, by suffering and weeping over him as over yourself.

20. 11:5

The friend of silence comes close to God; and conversing with him in secret, he receives his light.

21. 13:8

At the third hour the demon of acedia causes shivering, headache and even an upset stomach. At the approach of the ninth hour, the monk finds a little strength, and when dinner is ready, he jumps out of bed. But when the hour of prayer comes, the body feels overwhelmed again. When he is at prayer, the demon sends him to sleep and interrupts each verse with untimely yawns.

22. 14:2

A full stomach dries up the source of tears, but when the stomach is dry tears flow in abundance.

23. 15:2

Chastity makes incorporeal nature its own. Chastity is the beloved abode of Christ, and the earthly heaven of the heart. Chastity is a supernatural renunciation of nature. It is the condition in which a mortal and corruptible body competes in a marvellous way with the incorporeal. A chaste person is one who drives out love with love, and puts out the fire of the flesh with spiritual fire.

24. 22:35

A man who had received the gift of vision told me what he had seen. "One day" he said, "while I was sitting in the assembly, the demon of vanity and the demon of pride came and sat near me, one on either side.

One poked me with the finger of vainglory and urged me to tell some vision which I had had, or some labour which I had accomplished in the desert; I had hardly got rid of him saying: "Let all those who wish me evil be put to flight and confounded" (Ps. 39:15), when the other demon at my left whispered in my ear: "Very good, well done!, You have become great by having vanquished my impudent mother!".

Turning towards him, I added the following verse: "Let them be put to flight and confounded who say: Well done, well done!" And I asked him: "How is it that vainglory is the mother of pride?" He answered: "Praise lifts up and swells the soul. When it is lifted up, pride takes hold of it, takes it up to heaven and then throws it down to the abyss".

25. 23:23

Pride is extreme poverty of soul which imagines itself to be rich and believes its darkness to be light. This impure passion, not only hinders all progress, but throws us down from the heights of virtue.

26. 24:18

Let all of us who long to draw the Lord towards us approach him as disciples to their master, in all simplicity, without hypocrisy, malice, guile or deviousness. He himself is simple and without complexity, and he wants the souls who approach him to be simple and innocent. You will never find simplicity separated from humility.

27. 25:9

One who has taken humility for spouse is gentle, kind, full of compassion, sympathetic, peaceful, shining with joy, docile, inoffensive, vigilant, active; to sum up, free from passion, for "the Lord remembered us in our humility and has delivered us from our enemies", from our passions and our uncleanness.


28. 25:68

Someone experienced for a day the beauty of humility in his heart, and seized with admiration, asked her to tell him the name of the one who had given her birth. With a shining and peaceful smile, humility answered: "Why do you want to know the name of the one who brought me into being? He has no name, and I cannot tell you until you have God for your possession!" To him be glory for ever.

29. 27:4

The beginning of hesychia is to avoid all noise, because noise troubles the depths of the soul. When perfect it fears no disturbance and remains untroubled.

30. 27:18

The hesychast declares openly: "My heart is ready O God!" He says: "I sleep, but my heart wakes".

31. 27:16

I have seen hesychasts slake their thirst without slaking their burning desire for God, generating fire by fire, love by love, desire by desire.

32. 28:4

When you go to present yourself before the Lord, the tunic of your soul should be woven entirely with the thread of the absence of bitterness. Otherwise you will gain no profit from your prayer.


33. 27:69

Faith is the wing of prayer. Without faith my prayer will return to my breast.

34. 4:104

When lazy people feel that the orders they have received are arduous, they begin to think that prayer is preferable. But when they find them easy, they flee from prayer as from a fire.

35. 4:112

He is a true servant who among men is in the body, but in spirit knocks at the gate of heaven through prayer.

36. 28:32

When you have persevered a long time in prayer, do not say that you have got nowhere; for you have already obtained some result. For what greater good can there be than to attach yourself to the Lord and persevere unremittingly in this union with him?

37. 28:67

Have great courage, and you will have God himself as the master of your prayer. It is impossible to learn to see by means of words, because sight comes from nature. In the same way, it is impossible to learn the beauty of prayer through the teaching of another. Prayer is only learnt by praying, and God is the master, who himself teaches man knowledge, who gives prayer to the one who prays and who blesses the years of the just.

38. 28:37

Prayer will show you the state of your soul. Theologians call prayer the mirror of the monk.

39. 28:9

When you pray, do not look for complicated words, for the simple and monotonous wailing of children has often touched the heart of their Father in heaven.

40. 28:19

The beginning of prayer consists in repelling our thoughts by a single word the moment they turn up. The middle state consists in concentrating on what we are saying or thinking. Its perfection is ecstasy in the Lord.

41. 28:34

Prepare yourself for the times you consecrate to prayer by continual prayer, and you will make rapid progress. I have seen men whose obedience was outstanding and who made themselves guard the thought of God in their heart. At the moment of prayer they were able immediately to recollect their spirit and shed floods of tears, because they were prepared in advance by obedience.

42. 28:11

If a word of your prayer fills you with sweetness or compunction, dwell on it, for our guardian angel is there, praying with us.

43. 29:2

He has become truly impassible who has made his flesh incorruptible, lifted his mind above creatures and made it master of his senses; and who, keeping his soul in the presence of the Lord, continually reaches out to him with an eagerness beyond his own strength.

44. 30:9

Love, impassibility and filial adoption are only distinguished by name. As light, fire and flame go together, it is the same, I think, with these three realities.

45. 30:12

A mother does not clasp her new-born infant to her breast more closely than a child of love clings to the Lord at all times.

46. 30:16

If the face of a loved one brings an outward change to our whole being and makes us joyful, gay and carefree, what will the face of the Lord not bring about in a pure soul when he comes and dwells there invisibly?

47. The Shepherd, 53

You should ask yourself, as all superiors should, whether divine grace does not often work through us because of the faith of those who come to us, and not because of our own purity.

48. The Shepherd, 28

Whatever the shepherd does, he must remember it is love that brought the Shepherd to the cross.

49. The Shepherd, 100

As I write this, I hear this word: "You who teach others, can you not teach yourself! "

So, I will say no more than this before concluding my discourse. A soul united to God in purity has no need of the word of another to instruct him. This blessed soul carries the eternal Word within her and he is her instructor, her guide and her light.

50. The Shepherd 28:19

Who is a faithful and wise monk? He who has kept his fervour without letting it go out, and who has not ceased day by day to add fire upon fire, fervour upon fervour, desire upon desire and zeal upon zeal until the end of his life._









This is similar to the Saying of Amma Syncletica. (Text 39).


A very rich passage where we find many themes we have seen before.

From the beginning, John, like Basil, places love of God as the highest endeavour. 'Truly' is repeated five times, underlining the consequences of this love of the 'true' God in descending order. If one truly loves God, one wants to be with him in the Kingdom. It is the 'aim' of Cassian. Then, feeling sorrow for having offended him is penthos. Then follows the remembrance of punishment and the fear of death.

The consequences of this love are: first amerimna. The word 'care' or 'anxiety' is found three times. We have seen that among the monks of Gaza absence of care is similar to abandonment or surrender. The same idea is found here.

Then comes the following of the "dispossessed" Christ, the theme of detachment found in Cassian. The "following of Christ", found again in the last sentence is a central theme of monasticism.

"Looking eagerly towards heaven" reminds of continual prayer, the "mindfulness of God" mentioned by Basil.

Finally there is the theme of hope, of spiritual poverty and abandonment is underlined by: "waiting for help from heaven".


"Our goal", the scopos of Cassian: "to love God".


"Psalmody is a weapon". The Desert Fathers had recourse to texts of Scripture in their struggle with the devil. See text 24 for a further example.


A remedy against murmuring.


Dorotheus said: "To accuse oneself is the way to peace"



As in the preceeding text, there are two kinds of penthos: that which comes from our own efforts, and that which comes from God.

?The Lord has come uninvited". This second kind of penthos is then an infused grace: the Holy Spirit touches man's soul without intermediary.

"Guard these tears". John will repeat further on the counsel to know how to guard the prayers which God inspires in the soul. (Text 42)


Love of one's enemies must always be considered as the summit of charity, its highest degree.


Here John makes a connection between abstinence and penthos.


A monk's chastity can only be explained by great love.


"Avoid all noise because noise troubles the depths of the soul"; external hesychia favours nepsis and amerimna must lead to interior hesychia which, according to John, is the same thing as apatheia and charity.


Here is the theme of epectasis: as God is infinite, our desire for him is satisfied because his presence experienced in contemplation fills us; it is also unsatisfied, because God is greater than our limited selves and will always be beyond us.


Hence the danger of abandoning prayer: one no longer knows oneself. This is also why tepidity brings avoidance of prayer, one is afraid to recognise one's tepidity.


There are three degrees of prayer here: prayer of a single word, prayer without words, ecstasy in the Lord.


Continual prayer brings about a love full of hope.







1) What does the word 'Climacus' mean, and when did John live in relation to St Benedict?

Climacus means 'ladder', the name of his principal work. He lived a century after St Benedict.


2) Why is the work of John important?

John's work is important because it was written in a time of transition. After the Arab

invasion, the monastic centres of Egypt and Palestine were destroyed, and Eastern monasticism found refuge on Mount Athos. John is therefore the intermediary between the monasticism of the Desert Fathers whose experience he culls and the monasticism of Mount Athos to which he transmitted this inheritance.


3) Explain in what way we find the teaching of the Fathers from earlier monasticism in John Climacus.

In John Climacus we find the traditional teaching of the Fathers. This is the practical experience of the Apophthegmata: the formation given by the abba, the importance of obedience, the opening of the heart, penthos; and the doctrine of Evagrius on the capital vices, and on the relation of praxis and theoria. He has also read Cassian with his teaching on the three renunciations, and the monks of Gaza.



4) Can you give some notes on the teaching of John on prayer.

A more personal question. Here too John collects the teaching of his predecessors: preparation by humility and the absence of anger The difficulty of prayer and necessity of perseverance.

Prayer is a gift of God and a judgement: it shows us what we really are. John insists on melete which should be as short as possible. This is what leads us to a remembrance of God. Continual prayer will enable us to experience the prayer of fire.