Benedict XVI Points to Ladder Leading to God

Considers Teaching of 7th-Century Hermit

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2009 ( St. John Climacus might have lived a hermit’s life on Mt. Sinai some 1,400 years ago, but he still has something to say to Christians today, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall, during which he took up again his series dedicated to great Christian writers of the East and West. Last week, he concluded a 20-catechesis series on St. Paul, in the context of the Pauline Jubilee Year that ends in June.

John Climacus, who lived approximately between 575 and 650, became famous with his treatise on the spiritual life, called the «Ladder to Perfection.»

The Holy Father today considered John’s teachings in the treatise, which he summarized in three stages.

The first stage is renouncing the world and a return to «true childlikeness in the spiritual sense,» he said. The second is the fight against the passions. In this stage, each rung of the ladder is linked to a passion, which, the Pontiff explained, is «defined and diagnosed, indicating as well the therapy and proposing the corresponding virtue.»

«The whole of these steps undoubtedly constitutes the most important treatise of the spiritual strategy that we possess,» he said. «The fight against the passions is seen in a positive light — it’s not viewed as a negative thing — thanks to the image of the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit.»

Finally, in the third stage, the path of Christian perfection is developed with seven rungs.

Benedict XVI explained: «These are the highest phases of the spiritual life. […]

«The last rung of the scale […] is dedicated to the supreme ‘trinity of virtues’: faith, hope and above all, charity. Regarding charity, John speaks also of eros — human love — figure of the matrimonial union of the soul with God. And he chooses yet again the image of fire to express the ardor, light and purification of love by God. […]

«John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros makes the soul advance more than the hard fight against the passions, because its power is great.»

At the end of the ladder comes God himself, who John portrays as saying: «May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the top of this ladder, as that great mystic of mine said — St. Paul: Now therefore three things remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.»


The Pope acknowledged that it could seem that John’s teaching cannot say anything to today’s Christian.

«But,» he said, «if we look a little closer, we see that such a monastic life is only a great symbol of the life of the baptized, of Christian life. It shows, to say it one way, in large letters what we write every day with little letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what is the life of the baptized, in communion with Christ, with his death and resurrection.»

And, he noted: «For me, it is of particular importance the fact that the culmination of the scale, the last rungs, are at the same time the fundamental, initial, simplest virtues: faith, hope and charity.

«These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes, but are the gift of God for all the baptized. In them our life too grows. The beginning is also the end; the starting point is also the arriving point.»

Thus, the Holy Father called Christians to learn from John’s teaching on the theological virtues, particularly hope that makes charity possible.

«Only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, our life is made great and we can bear the tiredness and disillusionment of each day, we can be good to others without expecting a reward,» he said.

«Let us use, therefore, this ladder of faith, of hope and of charity,» the Pontiff concluded, «and we will thus arrive to true life.»

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