Reading John Climacus: Rhetorical Argumentation, Literary Convention and the Tradition of Monastic Formation

University dissertation from Centre for Theology and Religious Studies

Abstract: This thesis offers an investigation of the literary form and the literary composition of The Ladder by John Climacus, as well as a study of how the author uses the tradition to form his reader. Besides a brief introduction with a survey of the previous research, the study comprises four chapters. In the first chapter it is shown, from a number of detailed text analyses, that the material in the steps is not arranged at random, but ordered according different literary conventions in order to lead the reader along a specific trail of teaching. In the second chapter the observations are confirmed by a comparison with literary practice. From the considerable correspondence regarding the literary composition between The Ladder and the moral treatises of Seneca the Younger and Plutarch of Chaironeia, it is argued that we need to revise our understanding of the literary form of the text. What is at hand is not a gnomic collection, but an argumentative moral treatise. In the third chapter The Ladder is investigated in terms of literary style. It is shown that the composition of the text, to a great extent, seems to be determined by stylistic ideals. The fragmentary impression of the text, it is argued, is not unlikely the effect of what has been called the jeweled style of late antique poetry and prose. In the fourth chapter it is demonstrated, not just that John Climacus to a great extent is working with the monastic tradition in terms of texts, but also that he uses texts and textual patterns to suit his own purpose and argument. It is argued in contrast to previous research that The Ladder ought to be understood, not as a systematisation or a summary of the doctrines of the desert fathers, but as a teaching where the tradition is reused with a specific aim: to prepare the monk in the monastery for solitude. It is also shown how John Climacus rereads the heritage from Evagrius Ponticus; the focus in the ascetic struggle is changed from anger and the attainment of a pure mind, to lust and a purified and transformed body.

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