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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.

John Climacus—about whom almost nothing is known with certainty, save that he was abbot of the Vatos monastery (later St. Catherine's) at Sinai probably in the mid-seventh century—wrote at the request of fellow-abbot John of Raithou a lengthy piece of spiritual direction called the Ladder of Divine Ascent (also Spiritual Tablets). This book, which would become one of the most popular, influential, and enduring works of the Christian East, possesses a vast manuscript tradition and a global translational history.1 Moreover, it was very early made standard Lenten reading for all [End Page 111] Byzantine monastics, proving particularly influential for the later Byzantine Hesychast Movement and the spirituality that, growing out of that movement and its later revivals, continues to be normative among Eastern Orthodox Christians.2 Curiously, the Ladder has never garnered a scholarly bibliography commensurate with its popularity, perhaps because its manuscript tradition precludes a standard critical edition.3 Nevertheless, Climacus is well worth scholarly attention for two interconnected reasons: first, he witnesses to the Greek ascetic literary tradition and its formative character among Chalcedonian monastics; second, he transforms that tradition, building out of it his own profound and holistic vision of ascetic spirituality. This vision would decisively influence later Byzantine monastics, legitimating and founding many aspects of their theology and spirituality, even as it stands alongside the sources and works that comprise the tradition out of which it is built. To understand, therefore, Climacus's own vision of ascetic spirituality requires we must first appreciate [End Page 112] the Greek ascetic literary tradition. The Ladder will in turn illuminate not only how that tradition was seen by its own inheritors, but also, in new and important ways, the whole of later Byzantine theology.

In this article I examine one facet of Climacus's thought in which his creative interaction with earlier ascetic literature and his unique ascetic spirituality are particularly visible: his deployment of the classic rhetorical trope of the ascetic life as "angelic." Although this theme was popular long before Climacus wrote, it met as often as not with ambivalence and outright antipathy. Ellen Muehlberger has shown that in early Coptic material, angelic visitations (and, with them, the assumption that ascetics lived "angelic" lives) could be used to reinforce social structures or to break them down, and that because of this destructive and individualist potential, the trope was often resisted by monastic leaders.4 This study will move in a different direction, showing that such ambiguities betray countervailing, often conflicting, anthropological assumptions and theological claims among desert ascetics, which in their turn reveal competing, often incompatible conceptualizations of ascetic spirituality. These competing conceptual trajectories developed and co-existed uneasily throughout the literary tradition that emerged among Chalcedonian Greek ascetics of Egypt, Palestine, and Gaza. John Climacus inherited this vast and complex tradition and transformed its ambivalences into a remarkably unitary vision of "angelic" asceticism, which at once accounts for valid objections and doubts while maintaining its more optimistic attitude toward ascetic possibilities.

I will begin by briefly showing how Climacus interacts with a specific literary tradition. I will then describe how, within this literary tradition, optimistic and pessimistic perspectives on the "angelic" life developed, demonstrating that opposing attitudes toward "angelic" monikers expressed countervailing conceptualizations of asceticism, centering on three oppositions, or tensions: first with regard to angelic life as a "state," the second with regard to angelic life as "liminality," and the third with regard to the individualism and community that angelic virtues implicate. Underpinning these claims and repudiations of stability, liminality, and community are a variable set of assumptions about what it means to be human and, particularly, a Christian ascetic: whether such beings can—or, [End Page 113] in fact, should—take on the traits associated with angels. Finally, a sustained reading of the Ladder will show how Climacus, drawing on both optimistic and pessimistic assessments in combination with his own angelology, anthropology, and aretology, harmonizes them within a vision of ascetic life as failure and progress that eternally pushes past the apparent boundaries of human nature.

Tradition and the Individual Monk

T. S. Eliot once wrote that, "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead."5 His remark applies especially to a self-consciously traditional writer like John Climacus and an eclectic work like the Ladder. Climacus alerts us to this at the Ladder's outset:

. . . faithfully constrained by the commands of those true slaves of God, stretching for a hand unworthy of them in undiscerning obedience, and by their knowledge taking up the pen to write, dipping it in downcast yet radiant humility, resting it upon their hearts smooth and white, just as on sheets of paper or, rather, spiritual tablets, we will write here divine words—or rather, seeds—painting them in many colours.6

It is not simply that quotes, references, allusions, and echoes of earlier literature abound in the Ladder—though they do.7 Rather, as Henrik Rydell Johnsén has pointed out, Climacus engaged ascetic teaching through its literary expressions, and was himself shaped by the texts and treatises to which he had access.8 In order to understand and appreciate the Ladder, we must first set Climacus in his literary and theological context. Specifically, Climacus drew heavily on the literary trajectory beginning with the Apophthegmata Patrum and related vitae and travelogues—including Palladius's Historia Lausiaca and the anonymous Historia Monachorum in Aegypto—through the Palestinian monasticism of the fifth and sixth centuries. [End Page 114] His most proximal inspiration was the "Gaza school" that began with Abba Isaiah (d. 491) and fully emerged with the two "Great Old Men," Barsanuphius (d. ca. 540) and John (d. ca. 542), and their disciple Dorotheus (6th c.). Climacus also read and utilized Mark the Monk (5th c.) and Diadochus of Photice (5th c.). Climacus was especially inspired by Evagrius Ponticus (346-99), although, given his milieu, he would never admit it and at points explicitly condemns Evagrius.9

While one can, with effort, discern many specific quotations and undeniable allusions, for the most part Climacus avoids names and citations, and one must be content with resonances and echoes, allusions and hints. We can, however, deduce that the writers on whom he draws were primarily (but not exclusively) Greek authors whom he considered to be within the doctrinal and ecclesial fold of the Chalcedonian Churches (thus excluding much Coptic and Syriac material for linguistic as well as doctrinal reasons). That is, Climacus was a Greek-speaker and, while not a dogmatic writer, nevertheless positioned himself as a Chalcedonian10 and loyal Byzantine.11 Interested more in forming monks than defining doctrine, however, Climacus, like many later Byzantine writers, found inspiration in the non-Chalcedonian Isaiah of Gaza and the great "heretic" Evagrius [End Page 115] Ponticus. Climacus collected practical wisdom wherever he could find it, but especially within what he considered to be the Chalcedonian ascetic literary tradition. I will, therefore, not here confine myself to Climacus's sources known with certainty, but will situate him within the broader monastic literary tradition within which he wrote and against which his own achievements will appear the clearer.

The Angelic Life in Monastic Tradition Before Climacus

Ascetics imagined themselves according to a variety of exemplars known among Christians, among which angels held a special place.12 As Georgia Frank has argued, like apostles, prophets, martyrs, and Christ himself, angelic exemplars helped ascetics biblicize their identity and thereby legitimate their purposes and practice. The comparison also helped outsiders— which could include other ascetics—appreciate the often outré appearance of these practices.13 Ultimately, the rhetorical trope helped legitimate asceticism within a framework of acceptable virtues that would have been reasonably common currency among Christians used to regularly hearing, if not reading, Scripture. As it describes a stable state of being, the trope derived from creative readings of passages like Matthew 22.30, in which angels evoke a hope of eschatological existence unmarked by material demands and societal conventions like marriage.14 In this passage and in other apocalyptic texts, angels connote a state of undistracted proximity to and ceaseless worship of God. [End Page 116]

Dispassion and Doubt

In order to achieve a similar state, ascetics renounced a "normal" bodily existence. They traded sleep for prayer vigils.15 They fasted and slept in simple or even open conditions.16 They renounced the familial and social relationships that had previously marked out their identity in the world.17 Their supreme and most obviously defining renunciation was celibacy. Celibacy, regarded as both angelic and eschatological, allowed ascetics to cast off what is both an animal and a social bond.18 These renunciations were, however, not ends in themselves, but, rather, means to an existence at once "care-free" (ἀμερίμνος) and "dispassionate" (ἀπάθος).19 The monk, therefore, traded worldly sustenance for divine,20 secular conversation for spiritual, and, ultimately, passions for dispassion.21 He gave up everything [End Page 117] that could distract him from the ceaseless worship of God—every care, every relationship, and every superfluity. He did not repudiate his body, but he did seek to live as carelessly as a bodiless being might. The "angelic" life as state therefore meant especially a dispassionate and care-free life.

Such claims met very often with doubt. First, there is the matter of ἀμεριμνία, closely connected with ἀπαθεία. John Kolobos discovered that, however he might wish it, he could not be "without care [ἀμέρμινος] like the angels who do not work but ceaselessly worship God." He found in practice that the angelic ideal led only to starvation, and was told by his elder brother "You are a human, and you must work in order to eat."22 He not only could not divest himself of a body, which would have been silly; he could not be "careless" (ἄμέριμνος) while in the body, which is a far more disquieting lesson. This story illustrates a profound claim made explicit in another saying of the same: that ascetic existence is, in fact, one full of care. The monk, he says, "is toil, for the monk toils in every work."23 Angels have no care, because theirs is a stable and, therefore, privileged, state. Likewise, though Barsanuphius held it in high esteem,24 he too carefully conditioned his praise of ἀμεριμνία: "But see, beloved, we who are ruled by such freedom from care, that we do not desire to hold ourselves as completely care-free, since we are 'earth and dust.'"25 Barsanuphius' allusion to Genesis 18.27 touches on what is for him an important theme: the continual remembrance by monks that they are mortal, contingent, and ever blame-worthy in the presence of God.26 One wonders, then, to what extent ἀμεριμνία was considered a realizable or even unequivocally beneficial goal, if its greatest exponents limit and condition [End Page 118] it so. The monk, called to repentance and battling instability, has and must have cares if he is to make progress.27

Doubts extended to whether a monk ever should be in a totally "heavenly" state. The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto tells of Macarius the Egyptian who found a copy of paradise in the far desert. After intense prayer he forces his way past the demons into this (admittedly false) paradise. He later returns to "the settled region" and attempts to persuade other monks to return with him, but they convince him otherwise, asking, "could it not be that this paradise has come into being for the destruction of our souls? For if we were to enjoy it in this life, we should have received our portion of good things while still on earth."28 The story argues not simply that a heavenly existence is impossible for human beings, but that attempting it on earth is inadvisable. Indeed, the association of this "paradise" with Egyptian magicians already suggests the duplicitous character of "earthly paradise"—it would be, at best, a copy; at worst, an idol. As Abba Poemen said of a monk who could not advise those in temptation, "[his] works are above with the angels, and it escapes him that you and I are in fornication."29 A monk in heaven, or even in a copy of paradise, is useless to himself and others.

More troubling is a story of Abba Arsenius. When asked why he flees the company of others, he responds: "The thousands and myriads of angels [cf. Dan 7.10] above have one will, but humans have many wills. I cannot neglect God and go among people."30 To those who claim that renunciation is angelic, Arsenius responds that his renunciation does not generate similarity with angels, but is, rather, a way of coping with a congenital dissimilarity. In these instances, the hope of an angelic life not only seems to outstrip the reality of ascetic existence, insofar as it is restricted by the [End Page 119] necessities of bodily care, but to oppose it in purpose, insofar as asceticism is defined as repentance and toil. Even renunciation—seemingly so angelic—is an act primarily proper to sin-bound beings.

The numerous letters and brief sermons of the Gaza School carry this doubt to its limit, so that the trope dies out almost entirely. It is amazing, since these letters and sermons provide some of the earliest witnesses to the apophthegmatic collections in which angels feature so prominently, to find only a few usages (mostly rather negative) in all 848 letters of Barsanuphius and John, and in Dorotheus's surviving works none at all.31 John puts it succinctly: "Which of the saints [ἅγιοι] will you see like Michael contending with the Devil? Indeed, Michael had the authority. There is nothing for us weak ones to do except to flee to the name of Jesus."32 John includes even the ἅγιοι as "weaker" than angels. Indeed, Barsanuphius, concerned as most were with "making progress," implicitly contrasts the monk with angels when he speaks of the latter as eternally unchanging.33 This keen awareness of fleshiness and the need for progress not in perfection but in repentance arises also from a distinction between renunciation and its goal. The renunciations associated with angelic existence—fasting, vigils, solitude, and celibacy—do not, of themselves, imply ἀμεριμνία or ἀπαθεία or an actually angelic life.

Barsanuphius and John, like their Egyptian forebears, demonstrate an ongoing tension between optimism and doubt about whether the angelic life is attainable or even beneficial. Given that the angelic life reflects a stable and, therefore, unchanging state of existence, it describes the person who has already attained to interior and exterior unity, tranquility, and heavenly focus. The problem is that often ascetics see themselves in desperate search for those qualities, and to assume already what they hope to attain in future is to invite failure. If human beings must "make progress," then an angelic "state" is an inappropriate ideal for those still on the way. And yet that "state" indexes precisely the kind of lifestyle for which ascetics choose a life of renunciation. The end is revealed to be in tension with the means. [End Page 120]

Liminality and Eschatology

A second tension arises with regard to a fundamentally different conception of angels as liminal beings. These were commonly portrayed as messengers and ministers, delivering God's laws, tidings and judgments to human beings34 and ferrying prayers to God.35 They were understood as moving between God and human beings—inhabiting the middle spaces, just as demons were thought to inhabit the middle atmosphere.36 Indeed, as liminal beings, angels and demons have much in common, and each presents a possible realization of the ascetic life. The ascetic then took on his own "liminality," which may best be described as a kind of vacillation or tension between two possible identities, symbolized beautifully by his chosen dwelling-place—the desert wilderness. There one escaped society's strictures but found also the realm of demons, beasts, toil, and death.37 The desert was, therefore, paradoxically close to life and close to death, a frontier between earth, paradise, and Hades, and between present and possible future ages. Ascetics, then, inhabited a realm of polarized possibilities.

Considered as more liminal creatures, angels represent the sort of upward mobility for which ascetics longed. However, liminality also opened up two opposed concepts of progress. Liminality may imply progress whose end is naturally produced by that progress; or it may mean progress within possibilities that do not close and whose end is thus a gift to be received. Evagrius's thought exemplifies the first concept. Evagrius describes angelic imitation primarily in terms of prayer.38 But "pure prayer" is the contemplation (θεωρία) of God beyond human or even angelic modes of thought.39 To put it simply, for Evagrius angelic imitation in prayer is the fruit of practical virtue (πρακτική) and its successor, knowledge (γνῶσις), and, ultimately, the monk seeks to transcend angelic modes of thought in favor of pure contemplation. Here asceticism means progress (in virtues [End Page 121] and contemplation) whose end (pure prayer as contemplation of God) is the natural product of that progress. The monastic has her end (τέλος) here and now, and the "angelic" life is attainable, although only insofar as it indexes virtues (especially ἀπαθεία) and activities requisite to θεωρία.

Evagrius's attitudes contrast with the Gaza Fathers, who exemplify the second spirituality of liminality. In a letter lambasting Origenist (and probably Evagrian) ideas, Barsanuphius writes tersely: "Here the toil, there the reward."40 Whatever taste monks may have of heavenly rest, it remains only a fleeting taste this side of death.41 Daniel Hömbargen juxtaposes Evagrius and Barsanuphius thus:

In earthly life a monk should not strive for spiritual knowledge, which is only a reward in heaven, instead, he should dedicate himself exclusively to the ascetic practice . . . this reveals a conception of the ascetic life which strongly opposes that of Evagrius. When Evagrius divides the spiritual life into praktiké and knowledge, the first stage is a preparation for the second, which is a goal to be reached during this lifetime . . . a result of the ascetic practice and belongs to the spiritual progress a monk should make on earth. For Barsanuphius, however, it is only a reward bestowed after death.42

When the Gaza Fathers speak of "progress," they mean progress in virtues whose end is the post-resurrectional ability to receive God's gift. Since the 'reward' is indefinitely postponed—as long as the ascetic lives he cannot receive it—liminality remains a kind of uncertain dwelling on an endless frontier. The monk learns to live with and even in the uncertain hope of a gift that he cannot possibly earn. This tension, then, points out the problem with the place of human beings in the spiritual world. Whatever resemblance one discerns with angelic exemplars is subject to how one conceives that place, and liminality does not resolve the tensions that invocation of an angelic state raises.

Individual and Community

The third tension is a social one that asks whether the proper state of ascetics is individual or communal. In many ways, the Gazan conception of spirituality is prefigured in the Apophthegmata and travelogues, particularly those that relate to coenobia. Macarius of Alexandria does not [End Page 122] impress the coenobium and even earned a reprimand for his "fleshless" feats.43 Macarius exists between earth and heaven in such a way that he seems to find rest in neither. The coenobium is not the place for the kind of individualized ascetic feats that may be associated with bodiless or angelic life. There is, I think, nothing inherently individualistic about angels, but it is also noteworthy that "angelic" did not index the virtues of monks in institutions, where obedience and humility were primary.44

To explain, we may return to Hömbargen's distinction between Evagrius and Barsanuphius, which rests on a distinction between the resurgent "Origenist" spirituality and the institutionalized asceticism presented by Cyril of Scythopolis.45 In his "biographies" Cyril increasingly emphasized the life of the institution rather than the individual as the locus of sanctity.46 This institutional focus, Hömbargen argues, led to mistrust of "people who are charismatically inspired by new spiritual experiences."47 He contrasts this with pictures of fourth-century Egyptian monasticism, which now appears highly intellectual—and highly individualistic—with its central focus on "the development of the interior life."48 The kind of achievements that made Macarius "fleshless" or that John Kolobos longed for or that Arsenius despaired of finding—these pick out individuals and highlight them as particularly holy and spiritually gifted. At stake in the achievement of "angelic" virtues is, as in Cyril's biographies, the stability of the institution and the role of individuals as members of institutions— and, therefore, subordinate to visible and regularized monastic authority. Within the institutional framework that emerged with coenobia and lavrae, reliant on hierarchical stability for existence, leaders necessarily looked askance at exhibitions of spiritual power that could (and, in Cyril's account, nearly did) topple the new communal locus of sanctity. This stability was represented and maintained by obedience to an established succession of abbots, rather than a collocation of abbas. "Angelic" life does not further [End Page 123] progress within established institutions. Rather, it indexes virtues that may topple the stability of that institution.

These three tensions illustrate a series of countervailing conceptualizations or understandings of the ascetic life, that is, frequently co-existent yet apparently exclusive ideas of what it means to be a monastic. Similarities emerge, however, between the three pairs of choices: optimism of ἀπαθεία and doubt about ἀμεριμνία, upward mobility and outward deferral, individual growth and communal obedience. Optimism, mobility, and growth, mark out the spirituality of the hero and superhuman: Athanasius's Antony, carrying Christ's standard to the demon-haunted ends of the earth. This interpretation of asceticism allows for and can even laud the monk as an earthly angel. Antony's move to the tombs is a frontal assault on the demons, and has little in common with the anonymous young man who, John of Scythopolis tells us, "while living, incarcerated himself among the tombs and renouncing his own life, did nothing but lie underground and groan from the depths of his heart."49 This young man typifies a second interpretation of asceticism, characterized more by humbling recognition of one's mortality, sin, and need for submission. Asceticism belongs also, as Basil of Caesarea wrote, to the weak and the sick, for whom the monastery is an infirmary as well as stadium.50 These conceptions of spirituality not only render highly questionable language of "angelic" life; they contour the bounds and ideals of ascetic spirituality, together with assumptions about anthropology, angelology, eschatology, and aretology, among those monks whom this literature formed. Foremost among the heirs of this tradition was John Climacus, and it is to his original reformulation of the trope of "angelic" life that we now turn. Developing his own ideas about human and angelic natures and about which virtues are particularly angelic, Climacus takes on our three tensions and transforms them into a unified and holistic conception of ascetic life as progress through and beyond failure.

The Angelic Life in the Ladder

It is highly unlikely that Climacus consciously intended to improve upon or to resolve the variety of ascetic hermeneutics at work in the literary tradition that he inherited. Rather, however paradoxical it may sound, it is his strict adherence to received teachings that made him so original. [End Page 124] Climacus, fond of lists and paradoxes, frequently holds together various opinions that had before moved in opposing directions.51 He rarely rejects opinions that had gained authority, although he often submits his own opinion alongside them.52 As he quietly emphasizes certain elements of the tradition and de-emphasizes others, Climacus develops an understanding of ascetic spirituality that is new and yet familiar and highly attuned to prior Greek ascetic tradition.

Angels appear regularly in the Ladder. Angels are the friends of God who stand near him in heaven53 and whose privileged state allows them also active liminality. Angels reveal God's mysteries,54 distribute his beneficence,55 and guard the baptized by aiding at prayer and carrying petitions to God.56 Climacus says that they can help those going to judgment at death,57 or, conversely, destroy the hope of those who do not repent.58 Angels are the constant companions of ascetics, drawing them heavenward even as demons try to pull them off the ladder.59 In addition, Climacus at many points calls ascetics 'angels' and their peculiar mode of being an "angelic" one, very often doing so in passing and leaving open to interpretation exactly what he might mean.60 All of these points are classic characteristics of angels, considered especially as liminal beings, adding little to what was already present in the literary tradition.

Climacus adds to these traditional opinions his own ideas, which lead to a profound transformation of traditional material. Climacus uniquely emphasizes angelic "perception" (αἴσθησις) and "progress" (προκοπή), creating a natural framework for analogy with humanity, which he sees as malleable and self-transcending without being self-destructive. Within this framework, Climacus refers angelic activity not to ἀπαθεία or ἀμεριμνία, [End Page 125] but to "humility" (ταπεινoφροσυνή), "obedience" (ὑπακοή) and "prayer" (προσευχή). For Climacus, these virtues define ascetic existence both in the coenobium and in the solitary cell, but are developed precisely through a progress that begins with failure. These moves create a coherent re-deployment of the 'angelic life,' which both accepts and transcends the objections raised in earlier literature, and which elaborates much of Climacus's own understanding of ascetic spirituality.

Angels and Other Bodiless Powers

Generally, John Climacus follows the traditional understanding of angels as rational, bodiless,61 and immortal.62 On the other hand, he qualifies these characteristics in order to differentiate clearly angels from demons, while also opening up imitation of angels to mortal, embodied beings. First, "bodilessness" is not a property of angels, but of "bodiless beings," a category that Climacus understands as including both angels and demons, neither of which possess bodies.63 Thus, as important as ἀπαθεία is, it is not enough simply to turn oneself away from the body. Even the demons do that and, in fact, the Devil fell not through passion but through pride.64 Rather, all true "purity" (ἀγνεία) and ἀπαθεία, even angelic, is characterized by humility and obedience to God.65 Thus, while Climacus will speak of "purity" as characteristic of bodiless beings66 he will further refer to "angelic humility,"67 call "meekness" (πραΰτης) the angels' "characteristic" (ἰδίωμα),68 and praise their love and obedience to God.69 Without disregarding or rejecting claims about angelic dispassion, Climacus, showing himself sensitive to potential ambiguities, quietly shifts focus away from the particular traits that had raised so many problems in preceding literature [End Page 126] and toward a set of characteristics not necessarily at odds with embodied existence.

Climacus makes two more crucial claims about angelic nature. First, he argues that angels, being rational and bodiless, are also perceptive and therefore self-aware. He writes, "It seems to me that it belongs to an angel not to be tricked into sins."70 Second, in a lengthy passage wherein he sets up an extensive analogy between angels and the more advanced ascetics (whom he calls "hesychasts"71 ), Climacus claims that angels make progress:

. . . I will teach you the perceived activity and way of life of the noetic powers. These are not satiated unto the ages of age with praising the Maker, and neither is the one entering in the heaven of stillness satiated with hymning the Creator. The immaterial beings do not trouble themselves about matter, and material beings do not concern themselves with food. The former do not perceive food, and the latter require no promise of it. The former do not care about goods and possessions or the latter about the evildoing of spirits. For those above there is no desire of visible creation; neither for those below (who desire things above) is there longing for some visible image [in prayer]. The former do not pause in love, nor the latter in progress. Hesychasts never cease from daily imitating angels. For the wealth of progress is not unknown to angels nor the desire of ascent to hesychasts. Angels stretch out until they stand as Seraphim. Hesychasts do not flag until they become angels. Blessed is the one who hopes. Thrice blessed is the one about to receive the status of angel.72

It is clear from this and other passages that angelic progress requires an insatiable desire for God, which leads to a closer proximity to him and therefore a higher degree of illumination.73 Granted, this progress moves, as it were, from strength to strength and from glory to glory, but in this lengthy meditation, Climacus opens up the possibility of an analogy between angelic progress and ascetic progress. In doing so he avoids any glaring inconsistency between static and dynamic beings to which writers like Barsanuphius had alluded. At the end of ascetic progress lies the promise of becoming an angel. This claim is a bold one and, while we shall [End Page 127] have cause to consider this passage again below, it must first be qualified by Climacus's conception of human nature.

Malleable Humanity

Human beings, unlike angels, are bodily, sinful, and mortal. Though rational, their perception of their own state and of the spiritual activity around them is often unclear—an exigency of embodiment. Angels make progress within the framework of their privileged and stable existence. Ascetics, however, fail; indeed, they fail repeatedly and often. Climacus attributes to one Macedonius, an Alexandrian monk, the following indirect statement: "They say that angels do not fall, and some even say that they are unable. But men fall, and are able to rise again, as often as this happens. Demons alone do not rise after falling."74 One reason why human beings, unlike bodiless beings, can both fall and rise, is their ability to learn from and correct the muddied perception that results from the union of soul and body, on account of which they do not clearly perceive themselves, the angels who aid them, or the demons who attack them.75

Ultimately, however, these constrictions are not hard and fast, for human nature is highly malleable. Climacus makes this clear when he speaks of human beings becoming demons or beasts.76 Each being has something in common with the others, while natural barriers are susceptible of breach. Indeed, Climacus understands asceticism as continued violence against the constraints of human nature, especially as it resembles the animal or demonic. He writes in the first step, "Flight from the world is a voluntary hatred of prized matter, and a denial of nature for the sake of things beyond nature."77 This denial is possible, Climacus says, with the help of God (which, when recognized, induces humility).78 Climacus writes of the person who attains purity through obedience and humility:

Whoever has conquered the body has conquered nature; and whoever conquers nature becomes in every way beyond nature. But such a person becomes one "made a little lower than angels" (Heb 2.7)—or I might say, not at all. It is no marvel for immaterial to battle immaterial. But it is a marvel, truly a marvel, for a material being, contending with hateful and crafty material, to put immaterial enemies to flight!79 [End Page 128]

Thus, victory over nature in no way abrogates bodily nature. That is, ascetic renunciation does not seek a bodiless state. Because the body expresses passions and constantly interposes its desires, monastic life is one of struggle, "violence and ceaseless pains."80 As the passage above indicates, however, body and soul mutually affect one another, and "it is a marvel to see the bodiless mind polluted and darkened by a body and again to see the immaterial purified and rarefied by clay."81 Because God has bound the body to the soul, and because the body has a crucial role to play, as enemy and as friend, in ascetic progress, Climacus claims that monks aim to "ascend to heaven with the body."82 Ascetics, seeking a state of simplicity that anticipates the general resurrection, struggle to bring body and soul into harmony.83 Thus, human beings, although they are radically different from angels, become like them in every way save one: human beings remain fundamentally bodily creatures.

Such a harmonious interior state differs strikingly from how ascetics start out. Human beings, if they are to be like angels, must make progress—not within perfection, as angels do, but through failures. Climacus harmonizes human failure with angelic perfection through his deployment and ordering of ascetic virtues, integral to which is his implied claim that becoming an 'angel' does not have to do primarily with becoming "bodiless." Climacus therefore proclaims his understanding of asceticism in terms of angelic imitation in the following paradoxical statement: "A monk is attainment of the order and status of bodiless beings in a material and defiled body."84

Clarity and Obedience, Confession and Penitence

Climacus builds up his ideas of "angelic" asceticism within this angelological and anthropological framework, developing it around three virtues that we have already seen he associates with angels: clear perception, humility and obedience. Through the interplay of these virtues, Climacus writes imitation of "angelic" existence into the structure of the community's daily [End Page 129] life and portrays it as an ascent to unceasing contemplation of God, thus effectively resolving the three conceptual oppositions described above.

Human beings, as we have seen, lack the crucial angelic characteristic of clear perception—angels cannot be tricked into sinning—but monks can develop it through practices of confession and self-accusation. Climacus writes,

It seems to me to belong to an angel not to be tricked into sins, when I hear of an earthly angel who said, "I know of nothing against myself, but am not justified by this; but the one who judges me is the Lord" (1 Cor 4.4). Wherefore we ought to constantly condemn and blame ourselves, so that through voluntary cheapness we might be saved from involuntary sins.85

Clear perception makes a person an 'earthly angel,' and ascetics clear their view by means of "self-accusation," which Climacus more often treats in its more formalized counterpart of confession of both thoughts and actions to a spiritual director.86 Those who apply themselves assiduously to self-accusation and confession receive angelic aid.87 For Climacus this is no surprise because angels stand constantly beside all the baptized, not only encouraging their prayers, but also recording their sins.88 Ascetics preparing for confession imitate this angelic activity when they write down their thoughts and actions.89 In confession, interestingly, one can observe a dual motion: as the monk sees himself and his failings with greater clarity, the angel erases his sins, removing them from the future accounting.90 In a kind of inversion of judgment, the monk learns to judge himself rather than others, and so he escapes God's judgment by offering it to his director,91 rather than usurping it for himself.92 Thus, the development of clarity through the institutional mechanism of confession also purifies the monk, making him in both ways more angelic.

Because clarity begins with an awareness of one's own failings and sinful propensities, Climacus would argue that it inculcates also the humility [End Page 130] that he attributes to angels. Climacus refers to "angelic humility,"93 claiming that it is a virtue beyond human nature, but which human beings can learn from angels.94 Indeed, the humble monk becomes a close companion of angels95 and is gladdened by their presence.96 Again, however, an important discontinuity emerges between human beings and angels. While angels may be said to be naturally humble—perceiving themselves quite clearly in relation to God97 —human beings do not naturally possess humility. Rather, they learn it through confession, a process in which failure is no obstacle: in fact, consciousness of one's failings, inasmuch as it contributes to repentance, leads to a revaluation of oneself against divine perfection. Thus Climacus compares humility to a loaf made of repentance and tears, fired with desire for God,98 and he closely connects contrition, self-knowledge, and humility.99 Or, as he puts it elsewhere, "Repentance raises up; mourning knocks on the heavens; but holy humility opens them."100 The path to humility—as also to dispassion101 —is paved with failures for which the monk repents in confession. The more a monk learns to see himself clearly and to be aware of his failings and progress, the more he finds a true humility that is not simply an artificial self devaluation, but a recognition of his character, constitution, and developing relationship to God.

Humility and confession perfect the virtue that Climacus most consistently associates with angels: obedience. As we shall see, for Climacus humility and obedience operate dialectically. First, Climacus carefully replaces ἀπαθεία, as well as Arsenius's longed-for single "will," with the seemingly mundane "obedience." Essential to coenobites, obedience remains integral (mutatis mutandis) to the solitary's life as well, even as it opens up into the peculiarly angelic activity of prayer (as I will show below). Climacus's aretology thus avoids the pitfalls of 'individualism' as well as doubts about a singular will, further opening up the monastic community as a source of stability requisite for ascetic progress through repentance. [End Page 131]

The majority of comparisons between monks and angels appear in Climacus's Fourth (and longest) Rung, "Concerning blessed and ever-memorable obedience [Περὶ τῆς μακαρίας καὶ ἀειμνήστου ὑπακοῆς]."102 There he speaks lovingly of the coenobites' "heaven-imitating life"103 and promises to relate something "truly amazing": how "earthbound mortals imitate heavenly beings."104 Climacus goes on to explain that this life refers to a community knit together with love and humility, contrasting those bonds with demonic dissension and anger.105 The humility needed to form this community is born of obedience;106 and yet, as humility grows, it also perfects obedience.107 Thus, in his lengthy account of the great coenobium in Alexandria, Climacus relates

. . . a marvel yet more fearful and angelic, men grey-haired, venerable and holy running about under obedience like little children and having obtained their own humility as a great boast . . . I saw others of those ever-memorable monks with the grey hair of angels driven to deepest innocence, to simplicity made wise, to action both voluntary and God-directed . . . within their soul breathing God and the superior, like pure children.108

The more perfect, those who most completely resemble angels even in physical appearance,109 remain obedient to God through the "superior" (προεστῶς) who acts as their spiritual director. No longer does angelic imitation refer primarily to acts of exterior renunciation, or to the distant goal of dispassion, or to the individualizing hope of contemplation, but to the utterly mundane demands of daily obedience within a community with a stable, hierarchical structure.

Climacus (in the voice of its superior) calls this community "an earthly heaven" that requires not only obedience but, for many (perhaps all), repentance.110 Again we see that while perfection may be laudable, the realities of ascetic life include many failures. The community, though, allows for rehabilitation through acts of penitence, which complete the process begun in confession to the superior. Indeed, the monastery described by Climacus [End Page 132] incorporates a separate institution, the infamous Prison (Φυλακή),111 where those who sin against the community in ways great or small are sent for a time of repentance.112 This place, too, is under a leader (Isaac, a man whom Climacus calls an angel113 ), and there too monks live in obedience and humility, progressing by means of more extreme measures than their brethren in the main coenobium.

With these virtues, John Climacus resolves the conceptual oppositions present in prior literature. First, rather than opposing the individual and his community, Climacus's spirituality reveals progress to be possible for those who fail because of the stability provided by the monastic institution with its regularized forms of confession and repentance, by which ascetics develop also the clear perception proper to angels. Second, rather than opposing two states of existence, Climacus's ideas of progress develop within an unchanging genre of virtue dialectically fashioned out of obedience and humility: all virtues imply and require these two. Without obedience and humility, not even dispassion is truly dispassion.114 With them even the most mundane activity is heavenly. Thus, Climacus does not envision one kind of activity for those "on the way" and another for those being perfected. Rather, both are concerned with the same virtues, and both utilize the same practices to attain them.

Perpetual Progress

There remains the question of what sort of liminality is operative in Climacus's spirituality: what is the end toward which ascetics move, and how do they approach it? Climacus is clear that God's judgment cannot be known this side of death and that ascetics therefore do not reach their "end" in the present life.115 He is equally clear, however, that the mode of being defined by obedience and humility—both of which are cultivated now—continues eternally. Thus, the "end" of asceticism is, in fact, eternal progress, which the monk accepts, as Barsanuphius would have it, as a gift of God's mercy.116 For Climacus, therefore, monks are always "liminal" beings. More importantly, they progress toward an end that is [End Page 133] always future (as it was for Barsanuphius) and yet, paradoxically, ever present (as for Evagrius). His conception of continual progress emerges clearly in the analogy that he envisions between coenobitic and hesychastic lives as "angelic."

Climacus inscribes angelic imitation as continual progress into the rhetorical structure of the Ladder. The book has a "mirroring" and "balancing" structure, whereby early chapters on "fundamental virtues" (§§4-7) are balanced and filled out by later chapters on "higher virtues" (§§23-26). Likewise, the Ladder has a three-part "narrative" structure: "breaking from the world" (§§1-3), the "practical life" (§§4-26) and the "contemplative life" (§§27-30). Thus, the Fourth Rung on "obedience," which concerns monks in coenobia, is mirrored by the Twenty-Sixth on "discernment," which caps the "practical life" whose elaboration began with "obedience." "Discernment" also marks a change in tone and, in its later portions, prefaces the Twenty-Seventh Rung, on "The life of Stillness and contemplation" (Ἡσυχία), concerning those who have "graduated" from the coenobium and entered the "contemplative life." In this construction, Climacus points out the fundamental continuity of these various "stages" in the ascetic life. Obedience Climacus calls "a rejection of discernment by means of a wealth of discernment."117 In this way the monk learns the humility and clarity that allow him to exercise properly his own discernment—which Climacus tellingly calls "a clean conscience and pure perception"118 —and that prepare him for the dangerous yet important step of living in solitude, where he can cultivate not only the virtues of an "active" life, but those of the "contemplative" as well. Obedience and stillness hold, therefore, analogous places in the Ladder's structure, as the twinned principles (ἄρχαι) of the "active" and "contemplative" lives (although, of course, the latter is impossible without the former), and Climacus's mirrored composition emphasizes that the monk in solitude is still a monk in obedience, perhaps no longer to a superior, but always to God.119 Angelic imitation is most visible in these two chapters and shows up both in the unity of coenobite and hesychast, and in the continuity of growth in virtue that takes place for each.

While the coenobites lived a "heaven-imitating life," Climacus calls the hesychast "an earthly type of an angel,"120 of whom Abba Arsenius [End Page 134] is (ironically enough) a prime example.121 Why? Climacus explains that this one, "with the tablet of desire and the words of haste, frees his prayer from laziness and neglect."122 One cannot help but think of the tablets on which angels write sins and monks write thoughts, which Climacus in Rung Four presents as symbolic of obedience.123 The hesychast carries a similar sort of book with him, composed of divine desire and focused haste,124 by means of which he develops a life of unceasing prayer. Prayer, indeed, Climacus will call "work of angels, food of all bodiless beings."125 In prayer the hesychast comes directly before God, learning the divine will and accomplishing it;126 in discernment he receives his illumination directly from God;127 and so, like angels, he draws as near as possible to God until he reaches "the depth of mysteries."128 The hesychast, however, only attains this position through much struggle, having learned through failure to recognize and ignore the sounds of demons.129 Had he not learned to offer up his will in obedience, always to hate it in humility, and to recognize God's will in discernment, the hesychast could not now offer his will directly to God in prayer. Thus he perfects as an "earthly angel" the way of life that he began in the "earthly heaven" of the coenobium and whose continuance was possible only through recognition, even acceptance, of human frailty and repentant overcoming of failures. His progress is continuous, then, with that of the beginner, and, in fact, does not end.

We must note that in this scheme of progress ultimately "all-holy love" tops the Ladder, setting ascetics at last among the angels130 in the heaven of obedient and humble dispassion, making their lives most perfectly "the rest of angels, the progress of the ages."131

Climacus's Achievement

John Climacus invigorates and harmonizes the various spiritual and conceptual claims on asceticism implicated in the 'angelic life.' By taking up [End Page 135] traditional ideas, holding them together, and coupling them with his own understanding, he crafts a unique contribution to ascetic spirituality. He speaks to all the virtues discussed in earlier literature—including "heavenly" dispassion and "supernatural" purity—as well as to a variety of renunciatory behaviors. Climacus lauds divine contemplation, progress, and the hope of a heavenly existence. He elaborates all of these, however, through the interplay of humility, obedience, and perception, which he places within a unique angelology and anthropology. In doing so, Climacus transforms the understanding of asceticism that he inherited: he opens up progress through failure as a path of angelic imitation, made possible by the stability of the institution and the virtue of humble obedience that it requires and cultivates. Climacus first describes angelic nature in terms of clear perception and humility, arguing as well that, though distinct in nature, human beings and angels both make progress. For angels, progress is always within perfection, referring to a closer proximity to God and higher degree of illumination. For human beings, progress means getting up after falls, repenting and thereby learning the perception that angels possess naturally, as well as cultivating the humility that angels consistently exhibit. At the same time, the stability requisite to progress is provided by the monastic community and its superior, under whom monks learn obedience, which Climacus characterizes as an especially angelic virtue. Likewise, obedience (just like humility and self-perception) aids and is aided by practices of confession and repentance. Thus, for Climacus the quotidian drudgery of asceticism is what makes it an angelic lifestyle. Moreover, Climacus overcomes fears of individualism by characterizing his "hesychast" as an individual seeking prayer-filled union with God within the strictures of obedience learned under a superior. Coenobite and hesychast are both "angels" and for the same reasons. Ultimately, Climacus develops an understanding of ascetic spirituality into which he effectively inscribes imitation of angels precisely as continual progress within the bounds of human nature and the monastic community. John Climacus's ascetic spirituality, familiar and yet original, characterizes the monk's life is one of never-ending growth from frailty to strength, ever reliant on God's mercy, a growth whose "end" is eternal continuance in the expansive and divine practice of "all-holy love." [End Page 136]

Jonathan L. Zecher  

Jonathan L. Zecher is visiting assistant professor in the Honors College and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at the University of Houston


1. Robert Sinkewicz, Manuscript Listings for the Authors of the Patristic and Byzantine Period, Greek Index Project Series 4 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1992), L21-C22; Henrik Rydell Johnsén, Reading John Climacus: Rhetorical Argumentation, Literary Convention and the Tradition of Monastic Formation (Lund: Lund University, 2007),10-11; Dimitrije Bogdanovic, "Jean Climaque dans la literature Byzantine et la literature Serbe ancienne," in his Jovan Lestvičnik u vizantijskog i staroj srpskoj književnosti (Belgrade: Vizantolozhki Institut, 1968), 205-8, 217-25; Muriel Heppel, "Some Slavonic Manuscripts of the 'Scala Paradisi' ('Lestvica')," Byzantinoslavica 18.2 (1957); Jean Gribomont, "La Scala paradise, Jean de Rhaïthou et Ange Clareno," Studia Monastica 2.2 (1960): 345-58; N. Corneanu, "Contributions des traducteurs roumains à la diffusion de «l'Echelle» de saint Jean Climaque," SP 8 [TU 93] (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1963), 340-55. Portions of the Ladder survive in Ethiopic as well—sections of §6 (on the Memory of Death) in the Patericon Aethiopice, ed. Victor Arras, 2 vols., CSCO 277-78 [Scriptores Aethiopici 53, 55] (Louvain: Peeters, 1976) as well as a recently published version of §5 (on Repentance) in an article by Robert Beylot ("Un Témoin éthiopien inédit du Gradus 5 de Jean Climaque, Collegeville EMML 1939, Folio 102 R°-113 V°," in Pensée grecque et sagesse d'Orient. Hommage à Michel Tardieu, ed. M. A. Amir-Moezzi, J. D. Dubois, et al., Bibliothèque de l'école des hautes études sciences religieuse 142 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 89-107; and J. R. Martin, The Illustration of the Heavenly Ladder of John Climacus, Studies in Manuscript Illumination 5 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954).

2. On Lenten reading of the Ladder, see Ephrem Lash, "The Greek Writings Attributed to Saint Ephrem the Syrian," in Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos Ware, ed. John Behr, Dimitrie Conomos, and Andrew Louth (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2003), 82-83.

3. The editio princeps is: John Climacus [or Sinaiticus or Scholasticus], Scala Paradisi, ed. Mattheus Rader, S.P.N. Ioannis Scholastici abbatis Montis Sina, qui vulgo Climacus appellatur opera omnia (1633), reprinted in PG 88:624A-1164D. There is also Sophronios (ed), Κλίμαξ (Constantinople, 1883; repr. Volos: Schoinas, 1959). There are two English translations, one by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (1959; repr. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978); and the other by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, CWS (New York: Paulist Press, 1982).

4. Ellen Muehlberger, "Ambivalence about the Angelic Life: The Promise and Perils of an Early Christian Discourse of Asceticism," JECS 16:4 (2008): 448-78. This article contains an excellent review of the relevant literature, to which one must add Demetrios Moschos, Eschatologie im ägyptischen Monchtums, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 153-68.

5. T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in his The Sacred Wood:Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1997), 48.

6. §1 (PG 88:632C); all translations of primary texts are my own unless otherwise noted.

7. Kallistos Ware, "Introduction" to Luibheid and Russell, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 59-60; John Chryssavgis, "The Sources of St. John Climacus," Ostkirchliche Studien 37:1 (1988): 3-13.

8. Johnsén, Reading John Climacus, 196-99.

9. Importantly, he condemns Evagrius not on matters of doctrinal or eschatological speculation—which comprise the charges against "Origenists" at the Council of Constantinople in 553, under which charges Evagrius was clearly implicated. Rather, Climacus derides Evagrius's advice on fasting: "Evagrius—that madman—considered himself wiser than the wise in eloquence and thought. But the wretch was deceived, being revealed as more foolish than fools. Indeed in many things, but also in this one—for he said, 'Whenever our soul desires various foods, straiten it with bread and water [Practicus, 16].' But what he has enjoined is like someone telling a child to ascend the whole ladder in one step! But turning back from his definition, we say: 'Whenever our soul desires various foods' it seeks only what is proper to nature. Therefore . . . we recommend cutting out fatty foods for a while, then spicy foods, then sweets. If possible, give your stomach foods which are filling and easily digested" (§14 [865A-B]). See Tractatus practicus vel monachos in Évagre le pontique, Traité Pratique ou Le moine, ed. and trans. Antoine and Claire Guillaumont, SC 171 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971), 2:540.

10. See §28 (PG 88:1137A): "Some say that prayer is better than the memory of death. But I hymn the two natures of one person [μιᾶς ὑποστάσεως δύο οὐσίας]." See also §3 (PG 88:672B), §25 (PG 88:992A), §27 (PG 88:1117A).

11. See §25 (PG 88:993A): ". . . I worship a Trinity in unity and a unity in Trinity [προσκυνῶ Τριάδα ἐν μονάδι, καὶ μονάδα ἐν Τριάδι]." Climacus here quotes the Emperor Justin II's programmatic statement of imperial orthodoxy issued not long after his ascension (ca. 565), as found in Evagrius Scholasticus's Historia Ecclesiastica, 5.4, in Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. J. Bidez and L. Parmentier, The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius with the Scholia (London: Methuen, 1898), 198.

12. Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (H. mon.), Prol.5, in A.-J. Festugière, ed., Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1971), 7. See also Apophthegmata Patrum (Collectio Alphabetica), John the Persian 4, in J.-B. Cotelier, ed., Ecclesiae Graecae monumenta (Paris: Muguet, 1677), vol. 1, reprinted in PG 65:71-440 and supplemented by J.-C. Guy, Recherches sur la tradition grecque des Apophthegmata Patrum, SH 36 (Brussels: Société des bollandistes, 1984), 19-36. (Hereafter all references to the Collectio Alphabetica will be by "Name #.") See on this Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 168-70 and Moschos, Eschatologie im ägyptischen Monchtums, 153-68.

13. Georgia Frank, Memory of the Eyes: Pilgrims to Living Saints in Christian Late Antiquity, Transformations of the Classical Heritage (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), 135-62.

14. Muehlberger, "Ambivalence about the Angelic Life," 451-52. For the importance of the eschatological aspect of the angelic life, see, e.g., Theodora 10 (Guy, Recherches, 19-36), Pambo 12 (PG 65:372A-B), and Apophthegmata Patrum (Collectio Anonyma), N 235. The Anonyma have never been published in one place, and must be consulted in a series of articles published by F. Nau: "Histoires des solitaires chrétien," in Revue d'orient chrétien: 12 (1907): 48-68, 171-81, 393-404; 13 (1908): 47-57, 266-83; 14 (1909): 357-79; 17 (1912): 204-11, 294-301; 18 (1913): 137-46. (Hereafter I will cite them using Nau's numbering and the standard format of "N #." N 235 is found in vol. 14 [1909], 362.) Among later ascetics one can examine also Barsanuphius, Quaestiones et Responses (Resp.), 607 in François Neyt and Paula de Angelis-Noah, eds., Barsanuphe et Jean de Gaza. Correspondances, trans. Lucien Regnault, 5 vols., SC 426-27, 450-51, and 468 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1997-2002), 2.2 [451]: 832-42. See also John Moschus, Pratum Spirituale, 26 (PG 87.3:2872B) and 171 (PG 87.3:3037B-3040C). See also Burton-Christie, Word in the Desert, 181-85, 231-32; on the very interesting interpretation history of this passage, see Ton H. C. Van Eijk, "Marriage and Virginity, Death and Immortality," in EPEKTASIS. Mélanges patristiques offerts au Cardinal Jean Danielou, ed. J. Fontaine, and C. Kannengeisser (Paris: Beauchesne, 1972), 209-35.

15. Palladius, Historia Lausiaca (H. Laus.), 2.3 in Dom Cuthbert Butler, ed., The Lausiac History of Palladius (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 1904), 1:17-18; cf. Bessarion 11 (PG 65:141D).

16. Theodoret, Historia Religiosa (H. rel.), 21.3, 26.23 in P. Canivet and A. Leroy-Molinghen, eds., Théodoret de Cyr. L'histoire des moines de Syrie, SC 234 and 257 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1977-79), 2:73-75, 2:207-9.

17. H. rel., 3.14-15 (Canivet and Leroy-Molinghen, 1:275-77). Arsenius 36 (PG 65:101D-104A) presents undoubtedly the clearest example of social renunciation.

18. For example, N 186 (Nau, 13 [1908]: 272) where monasticism is described as ἀγγελική τάξις/πολιτεία and marriage as ἀκαθαρσία τοῦ κόσμου. See also, e.g., John Kolobos 34 (PG 65:213A-C).

19. See Burton-Christie, Word in the Desert, 222-31; Antoine Guillaumont, "Esquisse d'une phenomenology du monachisme," in his Aux Origines du Monachisme Chrétien, Spiritualité orientale 30 (Abbaye de Bellefontaine, 1979), 230-33, 235-36. For a scriptural account, see 1 Cor 7.33f, wherein Paul suggests celibacy to those who would share his ἀμεριμνία.

20. James Goehring argues that "angelic" refers primarily to absolute dependence on God: Ascetics, Society and the Desert: Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism, SAC (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, International, 1999), 61.

21. H. rel., Prol.2, 4.9, 21.3 (Canivet and Leroy-Molinghen, 1:127-29, 1:313, 2:73-75); H. mon., 4.1 (Festugière, 40).

22. John Kolobos 2 (PG 65:204C-D).

23. John Kolobos 37 (PG 65:216C-D); see also, e.g., Zacharias 1 (PG 65:177D-180A), Poemen 48 (PG 65:333A), and especially Theodore of Pherme 2 (PG 65:188A-B). On the spiritual benefit of work, see Silouan 5 (PG 65:409B-D) and especially Lucius 1 (PG 65:253B-C), wherein Lucius refutes Messalian claims, since his labor is actually more spiritually beneficial than their attempts at ceaseless prayer. Cf. Theodore of Pherme 10 (PG 65:189B) for an important corrective: the soul's work must come before manual labor.

24. G. Couilleau, "Saint Jean Climaque," DSAM 8 (1974): 389.

25. Resp., 61 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 1.1 [426], 304); cf. Gen 18.27.

26. See Barsanuphius's deployment of "γῆ καὶ σποδός" in Resp., 48, 62, and 71 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 1.1 [426], 258, 310, and 344); 73, 100, 101, and 125 (1.2 [427], 348, 414, and 472); 348 and 360 (2.1 [450], 368 and 384); 553 and 604 (2.2 [451], 712 and 820); cf. Dorotheus of Gaza's discussion of the same theme in his Doctrinae diversae, 2.34-37, 6.73-74, in Lucien Regnault and J. de Préville, eds. and trans., Dorothée de Gaza. Oeuvres spirituelles, SC 92 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1963), 197-202 and 274-78.

27. John Kolobos 13 (PG 65:208B-C).

28. H. mon. 21.5-12 (Festugière, 125-26), trans. Norman Russell, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, CS 34 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 108-9; cf. 10.21, wherein Patermuthius is transported to paradise and retains a fig as proof. Russell's notes are also helpful: Lives of the Desert Fathers, 137. One finds similar opposition of the present time (in which one works) and the age to come (in which one rests) in Athanasius's Vita Antonii, 19.4; Bessarion 12 (PG 65:141D), Arsenius 41 (PG 65:105C-D), Moses 12 (PG 65:285D), Poemen 76 (PG 65:340D-341B); H.Laus., 6.1-4 (Butler, 22-23).

29. Poemen 62 (PG 65:336D-337A); cf. the even stronger account in Poemen 8 (PG 65:321C-324B).

30. Arsenius 13 (PG 65:92A). One might note that in the sayings attributed to him, Arsenius consistently appears terrified or vexed at the idea of joining other people (1, 2, 7, 8, 21, etc. [PG 65:88B, 88C, 89A-B, 89B, 93A, etc.]). See also Matoes 13 (PG 65:293C) and Theodore of Pherme 14 (PG 65:189D-192A).

31. Resp., 607 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 2.2 [451], 840), Barsanuphius says that God has ordained equality with the angels only for the future. In 241 (2.1 [450], 188), Barsanuphius compares the deacon serving in the liturgy to both Cherubim and Seraphim. Generally positive are 77 (1.2 [427], 360) and 794 (3 [468], 256).

32. Resp., 304 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 2.1 [450], 296), alluding to Jude 9-10.

33. Resp., 600 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 2.2 [451], 810), in the context of a refutation of Origenism.

34. Heb. 2.2 recalls the tradition that Moses received the Law through the mediation of angels. See also Gen 18.1-19.13, and Luke 1.19-34 and 22.43.

35. Dan 10.12-14, etc.

36. David Brakke, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism, OECS (Oxford: OUP, 1995), 153.

37. Antoine Guillaumont, "La Conception du desert chez les moines d'Egypte," Revue d'Histoire des Religions 188 (1975): 3-21.

38. Evagrius [sub nomine Nili], De Oratione, 72 (PG 79:1181D), 111 (PG 79:1192C).

39. Angelic thought would still rely on νοήματα, since it is λογισμός (and all λογισμοί are composed of νοήματα). Yet prayer is a rejection of νοήματα and, therefore, a refusal of thought. See his De Oratione 70 (PG 79:1181C), in contrast to De diversis malignis cogitationibus (Recensio Fusius) 8 and 17, in Évagre le Pontique, Sur les pensées, ed. and trans. Paul Géhin and Claire Guillaumont, SC 438 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1998), 176-78, 208-14.

40. Resp., 600 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 2.2 [451], 810).

41. See, e.g., Resp., 2 (quoting 2 Cor 6.4-5, 12.10; Heb 4.1, Acts 14.22), 6, 9, 27 (Neyt and de Angelis-Noah, 1.1 [426], 166, 171-73, 178, 218-20).

42. Daniel Hömbargen, "Barsanuphius and John of Gaza and the Origenist Controversy," in B. Bitton-Ashkelony and A. Kofsky, eds., Christian Gaza in Late Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 179-80.

43. H. Laus., 18.15-16 (Butler, 52-53).

44. Cf. Moschos, Eschatologie in ägypetischen Monchtums, 156-57.

45. Daniel Hömbargen, The Second Origenist Controversy: A New Perspective on Cyril of Scythopolis' Monastic Biographies as Historical Sources for Sixth-Century Origenism, Studia Anselmiana 132 (Rome: Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, 2001), 332-49.

46. Bernard Flusin, Miracle et histoire dans l'oeuvre de Cyrille de Scythopolis (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1983), 182f.

47. Hömbargen, The Second Origenist Controversy, 346.

48. Mark Sheridan, "The Development of the Interior Life in Certain Early Monastic Writings in Egypt," in The Spirituality of Ancient Monasticism, ed. M. Starovieyski, Acts of the International Colloquium Hel in Cracow-Tyniec 16-19 November 1994 (Tyniec, 1995), 104.

49. H. mon. 1.37 (Festugière, 22-23); also Poemen 50 (PG 65:333B).

50. Basil of Caesarea, Asceticon Magnum, regulae fusius tractatae, 6 (PG 31:925A) and 7 (PG 31:928C).

51. As, e.g., with definitions of humility—Climacus lists off several famous ones and then offers his own: §25, 988C-989A.

52. As with the order of vices at §17, 929B.

53. §1 (PG 88:632B).

54. §26 (PG 88:1020D), §28 (PG 88:1132A); though within the extent to which they themselves have been illumined (§30 [PG 88:1156A]); and the strictures of what can be made known to humans (§27 [PG 88:1109B-C]).

55. §28 (PG 88:1137C-D).

56. §5 (PG 88:769C, 777D); §26.3 [summary] (PG 88:1092A), §28 (PG 88:1132B).

57. §3 (PG 88:665D); cf. Theophilus 1 (PG 65:197C), etc.

58. §28 (PG 88:1129C).

59. As much can be inferred from the standard illustrations of the Ladder; on which see Martin, The Illustration of the Heavenly Ladder.

60. He speaks of monastic life generally as "angelic" at: §4 (PG 88:684D, 688D), §8 (PG 88:832C). He calls the superior Isaac an 'angel' at §5 (PG 88:772B), Paul at §25 (PG 88:1000C), Abba Arsenius at §27 (PG 88:1112C), etc.

61. See note 53 above.

62. Scholion proimion to §15 (PG 88:880C): "But 'a made a little lower than the angels' also [means] this, that evil might not remain immortal, as the one called the Theologian states." The implied contrast is between angelic immortality and human mortality. The "Theologian" is Gregory Nazianzen: or. 45.8 (PG 36:633A).

63. See, e.g., §15 (PG 88:881D).

64. See, e.g., §15 (PG 88:881D): "Do not trust your clay during your life. And do not be very confident until you stand before Christ. Do not be confident that, from self-control, you will not fall, for one fell from Heaven who never ate." And especially §25, 1001A: "Rule of the angels became for one the pretext of arrogance. . ." Cf. also §25 (PG 88:1001B-C).

65. See, e.g., §15 (PG 88:888C, 901B-C, and especially 904B).

66. §15 (PG 88:880D, 888B).

67. §25 (PG 88:993C).

68. §24 (PG 88:981A).

69. E.g., §4 (PG 88:685A), §30 (PG 88:1157B).

70. §25 (PG 88:1000C): "Ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ ἀγγέλου, τὸ μὴ κλέπτεσθαι ἐφ’ ἁμαρτήμασιν εἶναι."

71. I here transliterate Climacus's word, ἡσυχάστος, rather than attempt to translate it more fully. In his usage "hesychast" refers both to a "hermit" who with his superior's blessing lives alone with one or two others (§1 [PG 88:641D-644A]), and to one who cultivates stillness and tranquillity (as described in §27). The two definitions are complementary for Climacus.

72. §27 (PG 88:1101A-B). My emphasis.

73. See, e.g., §30 (PG 88:1156A); this would be consistent with a Ps-Dionysian view of the angelic orders, with which Climacus would likely have been familiar.

74. §4 (PG 88:696D).

75. §26.2 (PG 88:1072C).

76. §8 (PG 88:832A-B); cf. §27 (PG88:1097D).

77. §1 (PG 88:633C); see also §7 (PG 88:805B); etc.

78. §15 (PG 88:881A).

79. §15 (PG 88:896B-C).

80. §1 (PG 88:636B); see also §14 (PG 88:869A): "Fasting is violence against nature."

81. §14 (PG 88:868C).

82. §1 (PG 88:636B).

83. On anticipating resurrection, see, e.g., §15 (PG 88:881B, 892D-893A, 904B), and §29 (PG 88:1148B). On the soul staying with the body, see §27 (PG 88:1097B): "A hesychast is one who contends to keep the bodiless [τὸ ἀσώματον] within the bounds of a bodily home [ἐν σωματικῷ οἴκῳ περιορίζειν]; a paradox!"

84. §1 (PG 88:633B): "Μοναχός ἐστιν τάξις καὶ κατάστασις ἀσωμάτων ἐν σώματι ὑλικῷ καὶ ῥυπαρῷ ἐπιτελουμένη."

85. §25 (PG 88:1000C).

86. See, e.g., §4 (PG 88:724D); so also §26 (PG 88:1020A). On which see also Kallistos Ware, "The Spiritual Father in Saint John Climacus and Saint Symeon the New Theologian," SP 18.2 (Leuven: Peeters, 1989), 299-316.

87. §26.3 (PG 88:1092A); on confession as self-revelation and self-perception see especially Columba Stewart, "Radical Honesty About the Self: The Practice of the Desert Fathers," Sobornost 12:1 (1990): 25-39.

88. §4 (PG 88:684C).

89. §4 (PG 88:701C).

90. §25 (PG 88:1001A).

91. §4 (PG 88:680A).

92. So especially §10 (PG 88:845B-849A).

93. §25 (PG 88:993C).

94. §26 (PG 88:1028B).

95. §4 (PG 88:704C).

96. §21 (PG 88:948A): "The angel standing by gladdens the soul of humble monks."

97. Climacus shows this per contra in his discussion of the Devil's pride at §25 (PG 88:1001A).

98. §25 (PG 88:989C-D).

99. §25 (PG 88:997A-B): “συντριμμός,” “ἐπίγνωσις,” and “ταπείνωσις."

100. §25 (PG 88:992D-993A): "Ἡ μὲν μετάνοια ἀνιστᾷ· τὸ δὲ πένθος εἰς οὐρανοὺς κρούει· ἡ δὲ ὁσία ταπείνωσις ἀνοίγει."

101. See §5 (PG 88:780C); cf. Climacus's remarks at §7 (PG 88:813A).

102. So titled in Rader's edition (PG 88:677A).

103. §4 (PG 88:688D).

104. §4 (PG 88:684D).

105. §4 (PG 88:684A).

106. §4 (PG 88:717B).

107. §25 (PG 88:1000B).

108. §4 (PG 88:688B-C).

109. Cf., e.g., Arsenius 42 (PG 65:105D), Pambo 12 (PG 65:372A-B); H. mon., Prol.6 (Festugière, 7), 2.1 (Festugière, 35), 6.1 (Festugière, 43-44), 6.2 (Festugière, 44).

110. §4 (PG 88:713B-C); cf. §4 (PG 88:728A-B).

111. §4 (PG 88:704A).

112. §4 (PG 88:685A), §5 (PG 88:764C).

113. §5 (PG 88:772B).

114. See especially §15 (PG 88:888C, 901B-C, and 904B).

115. See, e.g., §5 (PG 88:769B-C, 773A-B), §7 (PG 88:812D), §23 (PG 88:968C), etc.

116. So §5 (PG 88:780B); see also §23 (PG 88:968B-C): "As many successes as you had before your birth—in these alone rejoice! For God has given all things after birth, as also birth itself."

117. §4 (PG 88:680A): "Ὑπακοή ἐστιν ἀπόθεσις διακρίσεως ἐν πλούτῳ διακρίσεως . . ."

118. §26 (PG 88:1013B): "“Διάκρισίς ἐστι συνείδησις ἀμόλυντος, καὶ καθαρὰ αἴσθησις."

119. §26 (PG 88:1013A).

120. §27 (PG 88:1100A): "Ἡσυχαστής ἐστι τύπος ἀγγέλου ἐπίγειος . . ."

121. §27 (PG 88:1112C).

122. §27 (PG 88:1100A).

123. See Notes 88 and 89 above; see also §4 (PG 88:716A-B).

124. So Climacus implies at §1 (PG 88:644A), repeated almost verbatim at §27 (PG 88:1100A and 1105B).

125. §28 (PG 88:1129A): "“’Aγγέλων ἔργον, ἀσωμάτων πάντων τροφή."

126. §28 (PG 88:1133C).

127. §26 (PG 88:1013A).

128. §27 (PG 88:1100C).

129. §27 (PG 88:1101C, 1112C-1113D).

130. §29 (PG 88:1152B).

131. §30 (PG 88:1160A): "’Aγάπη ἀγγέλων στάσις· ἀγάπη προκοπὴ τῶν αἰώνων."