John Climacus (c. 575–after 650)

  • The ladder of divine ascent

    John Climacus, hermit, monk and abbot of St Catherine's monastery at Mount Sinai owes his epiphet Climacus to his treatise Ladder (klimax) of Divine Ascent. The famous text for monks describes how the struggle against passions and vice leads to peace of the soul and unity with God.

    John describes this path as an arduous and steep ascent on a ladder leading from the earthly to the heavenly realm and which at its end reveals God. John's ladder has thirty steps which represent the years that Christ lived until his baptism.

    The basis for the ascent is detachment from the world. This means a life spent in isolation, renunciation of all wordly things, obedience to the spiritual teacher, as well as penitence as atonement for wrongdoing (1st - 8th steps).

    The struggle against the passions takes place over fifteen steps. Demons lurk, trying to cast the careless down into the abyss (9th - 23rd steps). Gentleness, humility, and purity of the heart lead to peace of the soul (24th - 27th steps).

    Through continuous prayer and the achievement of detachment from passion, the 'heart-inner heaven of the spirit' opens. Finally, love, the uppermost step, is the fulfilment. It means resemblance to God and opens the gate to paradise (28th - 30th step).