The Ladder of Divine Ascent, or Ladder of Paradise (; Scala or Climax Paradisi), is an important ascetical treatise for monasticism in Eastern Christianity written by John Climacus in ca. AD 600 at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery located on the shores of the Red Sea.
The Scala, which obtained an immense popularity and has made its author famous in the Church, is addressed to anchorites and cenobites and treats of the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained. Divided into thirty parts, or "steps", in memory of the thirty years of the life of Christ, the Divine model of the religious, it presents a picture of all the virtues and contains a great many parables and historical touches, drawn principally from the monastic life, and exhibiting the practical application of the precepts.
At the same time, as the work is mostly written in a concise, sententious form, with the aid of aphorisms, and as the reasonings are not sufficiently closely connected, it is at times somewhat obscure. This explains its having been the subject of various commentaries, even in very early times. The most ancient of the manuscripts containing the Scala is found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and was probably brought from Florence by Catherine de' Medici. In some of these manuscripts, the work bears the title of "Spiritual Tables" (Plakes pneumatikai).
The Scala consists of 30 chapters, or "rungs",
It was translated into Latin by Ambrogio the Camaldolese (Ambrosius Camaldulensis) (Venice, 1531 and 1569; Cologne, 1583, 1593, with a commentary by Denis the Carthusian; and 1601). The Greek of the Scala, with the scholia of Elias, Archbishop of Crete, and also the text of the "Liber ad Pastorem", were published by Matthæus Raderus with a Latin translation (Paris, 1633). The whole is reproduced in Patrologia Graeca, vol. 88 (Paris, 1860). Translations of the Scala have been published in Spanish by Louis of Granada (Salamanca, 1551), in Italian (Venice, 1585), in modern Greek by Maximus Margunius, Bishop of Cerigo (Venice, 1590), and in French by Arnauld d'Andilly (Paris, 1688). The last-named of these translations is preceded by a life of the saint by Le Maistre de Sacy. One translation of the Scala, La Escala Espiritual de San Juan Clímaco, became the first book printed in the Americas, in 1532.
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ISBN 0943405033) This edition, based on Archimandrite Lazarus Moore's translation is generally preferred over the Paulist Press edition of the Ladder--especially because of the verse numberings, which are the standard way of referencing Climacus's sayings (these are also present in older versions of Archimandrite Lazarus's translation). It contains an icon of The Ladder, many other embellishments, and is printed on high quality paper. The Paulist Press edition contains an introduction by Bishop Kallistos.
The Ladder of Divine Ascent derived from manuscripts of the 11th and 12th century, pictorially bringing insight to heaven from a 30 rung ladder. The strategic placement of the ladder which cuts the icon into two complementary triangles, representing heaven in the higher triangular module and earth in the lower. The journey to the top of the ladder where Jesus reaches with open hands is rife with obstacles of sin represented by the demons with bow and arrows ready to take the souls of those who lack perseverance. The imagery is figurative in the sense that the demons represented visually in the icon are the sins that man battles with internally. In this case the monks that climb each rung with pain as they reach new heights. The act of climbing represents physical pain as well which is true of any exercise that defies gravity. In this sense the weight the monks feel is physical, mental, and spiritual. The icon shows several examples of monks that gave into temptation of sin as the demons with dark chains hoist their victims off the ladder and into hell. These battles are represented visually between the monks and their sin. Lord Nikon shows leadership through perseverance as he reaches the top rung. His inspirational position close to Christ serves as a guide to those still struggling in their journey. Between the danger of climbing the ladder is a group of brothers gathered at the lower right, arms raised in prayer to the angels above in the upper left. This represents the thoughts and prayers that cut through the battlefield giving support to those on the path to heaven by way of virtue. A life based on prayer and penance as the way to salvation is the virtue they live by. The angels above to the left represent the righteous climbing the ladder below in the same way that the holy brethren to the lower right mirror the angels above.
At the top of the ladder is archbishop Holy Antonios in a white robe with golden trim embracing the invitation to heaven with God. The white robe that archbishop Antonios wears is of silk with gold cuffs or "epimanikia" and a sash or "epitrachelion" that distinguishes himself from the others on the ascent. The imperial status held by archbishop Antonios implies a close relation to the icon itself. A symbol of his prominence within the religious community. His hands are lifted openly to mirror the grace Christ has given him. Lord Nikon is in front of the archbishop and leads the same hand gesture. Many inscriptions state that Lord Nikon has been "made one with God." The icon has been venerated with Lord Nikon in mind as much as archbishop Antonios. According to Hans Belting it is not known if archbishop Antonios came from the capital of Sinai or was even an archbishop. Those that suggest he was the archbishop include Doula Mouriki for one. This controversy remains today over the imperial patronage of the icon.
The Heavenly Ladder was translated as an icon for the Arabic speaking religious community probably at Sinai's Saint Catherine's monastery. John Climacus leads his people through text on the left side of the page to show the Greek tradition instead of the text from the right like the Arabic tradition. He doesn't sit on the floor like the Muslims but rather at a desk. This is complemented with a smaller adaptation of the icon. The reproduction shows Christ leading the pious to heaven from a ladder that cuts the icon from bottom right to upper left in ascending fashion. This is the opposite of the original icon of the late 12th century. This 17th century Arabic icon is colorful with its imagery. Moses is depicted kneeling before the burning bush at the right. The virgin Mary and Christ child are illuminated inside the tear shaped flame. John Climacus is seen at the lower left with fellow monks at St. Catherine. At the base of the ladder a monk falling to hell maintains footing on the ladder as St. John Climacus assists by grabbing hold of the demon.
Nelson, Robert; Collins, Kristen (2006). Icons From Sinai: Holy Image and Hallowed Ground. Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications. Evans, Helen; Wixom, William (1997). The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.