JOHN CLIMACUS

picture of John Climacus
John Climacus, as portrayed in a 13th century artwork

John Climacus was a 6th century monk who lived in the Sinai desert. His book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is organized into 30 chapters, called "steps," and the following excerpt is from step 23.

Concerning unspeakably blasphemous thoughts

... This atrocious foe has the habit of appearing during the holy services and even at the awesome hour of the Mysteries, and blaspheming the Lord and the consecrated elements, thereby showing that these unspeakable, unacceptable, and unthinkable words are not ours but rather those of the God-hating demon who fled from heaven because, it seems, of the blasphemies he uttered there too against the Lord. It must be so, for if these dreadful and unholy words are my own, how could I offer humble worship after having partaken of the sacred gift? How could I revile and praise at the same time?

This deceiver, this destroyer of souls, has often caused men to go mad. And no other thought is as difficult to admit in confession.... In fact nothing gives demons and evil thoughts such power over us as to nourish them and hide them in our hearts unconfessed....

If you have blasphemous thoughts, do not think that you are to blame. God knows what is in our hearts and He knows that ideas of this kind come not from us....

Those unclean and unspeakable thoughts come at us when we are praying, but, if we continue to pray to the end, they will retreat, for they do not struggle against those who resist them.

This unholy demon not only blasphemes God and everything that is divine. It stirs up the dirtiest and most obscene thoughts within us, thereby trying to force us to give up praying or to fall into despair. It stops the prayer of many and turns many away from the holy Mysteries. It has evilly and tyrannously caused the bodies of some to be worn away with grief. It has exhausted others with fasting and has given them no rest. It has struck at people living in the world, and also at those leading the monastic life....

Anyone disturbed by the spirit of blasphemy and wishing to be rid of it should bear in mind that thoughts of this type do not originate in his own soul but are caused by [the] unclean devil.... So let us make light of him and pay no regard whatever to his promptings.... To tackle the demon of blasphemy in any way other than this is to be like a man trying to hold lightning in his hands. For how can you take a grip on, seize, or grapple with someone who flits into the heart quicker than the wind, talks more rapidly than a flash, and then immediately vanishes? Every other kind of foe stops, struggles a while, lingers and gives one time to grapple with him. But not this one. He hardly appears and is gone again immediately. He barely speaks and then vanishes.

This particular demon likes to take up residence in the minds of simpler and more innocent souls, and these are more upset and disturbed by it than others....

Try cleverly to fight it and you will end up by surrendering, for the man who tries to conquer spirits by talk is like someone hoping to lock up the winds.

There once was a zealous monk who was badly troubled by this demon. For twenty years he wore himself out with fasting and vigils, but to no avail, as he realized. So he wrote the [sinful thought] on a sheet of paper, went to a certain holy man, handed him the paper, bowed his face to the ground and dared not to look up. The old man read it, smiled, lifted the brother and said to him: "My son, put your hand on my neck." The brother did so. Then the great man said: "Very well, brother. Now let this sin be on my neck for as many years as it has been or will be active within you. But from now on, ignore it." And the monk who had been [bothered] in this fashion assured me that even before he had left the cell of this old man, his infirmity was gone. The man who had actually experienced this told me about it....

From John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), translated by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, pp. 211-3 (original work composed in the 6th century).

 

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