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The Angelic Life in Desert and Ladder: John Climacus's Re-Formulation of Ascetic Spirituality


John Climacus's seventh-century ascetical and spiritual masterwork, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, drew on and reformulated the themes and trajectories of Chalcedonian ascetic spirituality in ways that would prove decisive for later Byzantine theologians. This paper seeks to elaborate the conceptualization of Climacus's spirituality through a sustained exploration of his treatment of angels and his understanding of the ascetic life as 'angelic.' In the monastic literature that Climacus inherited and that formed him, three tensions emerge with respect to the predication of "angelic" to ascetics: optimism and doubt about the possibility of a 'care-free' state, alternative conceptions of "liminal" progress, and opposition of individualism and community. Climacus not only holds together these tensions, but by coupling them with his own original ideas carefully develops the possibility of ascetic imitation of angels.