Philokalia

Philokalia

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 10 On Slander


    
        We are all aware of the nature of slander.  To slander someone is to speak evil of them behind their backs; it is to criticize them and to malign them to others.  For St. John, it is spiritually dangerous for two reasons. 

            First, it is hypocritical.  Very often when we slander others we practice the worst kind of deceit.  The person whom we are slandering knows nothing of our dislike or disagreement.  We say nothing to them.  Yet, when they are not around, we speak of them negatively to others.  This is duplicity.  

Putting others down can also be a way that we "build" ourselves up.  It makes us look good (pious, intelligent, etc.) to be able to point out the bad in someone else.  It often puts us into the good graces of others when we join them in their slander.  Notice how we use others for our own gain when we act this way.  Our concern is not for them (we would speak to them first if it was), nor is our concern for the safety of the ones to whom we speak . . . Our concern is for ourselves.  We look good at the expense of someone else.  How far have we strayed from the path of divine love and self-sacrifice.  The Bible says: "Love covers a multitude of sins."  We, with a malicious spirit, often delight in exposing the mistakes and weaknesses of others.

            Secondly, St. John condemns slander because of the attitude which lies behind it.  Slander is the fruit of a judgmental spirit.  The Apostle James identifies the connection: "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.  He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.  Who are you to judge another?" (James 1:11).  When we judge others we make ourselves equal to God.  In so doing, we invite His strict judgment. 

            To encourage us to refrain from judging others, John points out how very often our judgments our incorrect.  Given the finitude of our minds and knowledge, we see all things not as they are in fulfillment but as they are in process.  We do not know the end to which a person may come and we certainly cannot read their hearts.  In fact, when we judge others, we often condemn those who have already repented and been forgiven by God.  We oppose God's mercy with our own justice. 

            A judgmental spirit also carries with it a spiritual boomerang.  "Those who pass speedy and harsh judgment on the sins of their neighbors fall into this passion."  There are certain "laws" which govern the spiritual realm even as "natural laws" govern the physical.  One of these is that what we judge others for we will soon be guilty of ourselves in some form or another.

            To all of us who struggle with this dangerous sin, St. John has direct advice:  Remain silent and offer prayers for your brothers and sisters in love.
                                                                                   

1-3            Slander defined: Where it comes from and what it leads to in the spiritual life.

            Slander is the offspring of hatred, a subtle and yet crass disease, a leech in hiding and escaping notice, wasting and draining away the lifeblood of love.  It puts on the appearance of love and is the ambassador of an unholy and unclean heart.  And it is the ruin of chastity.
            There are girls who flaunt their shamelessness, but there are others who are much worse, for they put on the appearance of great modesty while secretly engaging in abominable behavior.  So it is with shameful vices.  And indeed there are numerous insincere maidens: hypocrisy, cunning, melancholy, brooding over past injuries, secret contempt for others.  They put on a show of doing one thing -  and then act otherwise.
           
4-7            John tells us that we should not let our concern for others be deformed by the use of slanderous words.  Rather, our practice should be one of silence.  Even if our brother happens to be in great sin, John states, we should remain steadfast in our love for him by offering silent prayers on his behalf.  We must recognize that the true source of his sin is the prompting of demons.   Moreover, we must actively prevent others from engaging in slander.

            I have rebuked people who were engaged in slander, and, in self-defense, these evildoers claimed to be acting out of love and concern for the victim of their slander.  My answer to that was to say . . . "If, as you insist, you love that man, then do not be making a mockery of him, but pray for him in secret, for this is the kind of love that is acceptable to the Lord."

            If you want to overcome the spirit of slander, blame not the person who falls but the prompting demon.  No one wants to sin against God, even though all of us sin without being compelled to it.

            Do not allow human respect to get in your way when you hear someone slandering his neighbor.  Instead, say this to him: "Brother, stop it!  I do worse things every day, so how can I criticize?"  You accomplish two things when you say this.  You heal yourself and you heal your neighbor with the one bandage.

8-12            John warns that slander and true repentance cannot coexist.  Spiritual growth is all but stifled by this vice and those who continually slander others are destined to fall into like passions.  Slander reveals that a man has forgotten his past sins.  He no longer mourns for his own transgressions and so turns his eye to another.  Moreover, slander is often a cloak for an immoral life - a tool used to hide one's own hateful actions.

            Do not make judgments, and you will travel no quicker road to the forgiveness of your sins.  "Judge not, so that you may not be judged." (Luke 6:37).
           
            Fire and water do no mix, neither can you mix judgement of others with the desire to repent.  If a man commits a sin before you at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment, because the judgment of God is hidden from men.  It has happened that men have sinned greatly in the open but have done greater good deeds in secret, so that those who disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes.  So listen to me, all you accountants of other people's faults, listen well; for if, as is certain, it is true that "you shall be judged with the judgement you have used yourselves" (Matt. 7:2), then whatever sin of body or spirit that we ascribe to our neighbor we will surely fall into ourselves.
            
            Those who pass speedy and harsh judgments on the sins of their neighbors fall into this passion because they themselves have so far failed to achieve a complete and unceasing memory of and concern for their own sins.  Anyone untrammeled by self-love and able to see his own faults for what they are would worry about no one else in this life.  He would feel that his time on earth did not suffice for his own mourning, even if he lived a hundred years, and even if a whole Jordan of tears poured out of his eyes.  Mourning of that kind has, as I know, no trace in it of slander or harsh judgment.

            You can always recognize people who are malicious and slanderous.  They are filled with the spirit of hatred.  Gladly and without a qualm they slander the teaching, the doings and the virtues of their neighbor.  I have known men who secretly had committed very grave sins and had not been found out, yet cloaked in their supposed goodness they lashed out against people who had done something minor in public.

13-17            Finally, John warns, this sin threatens spiritual ruin.  By usurping the prerogative of God in judging our brothers and sisters, we invite our own condemnation.  Looking for and judging the weaknesses and faults of others produces only one fruit - spiritual death.   

            To pass judgment on another is to usurp shameless the prerogative of God, and to condemn is to ruin one's soul.
            
             Self-esteem, even when there are no other attendant vices, can bring a man down.  Similarly, if we have got into the habit of passing judgments, we can be destroyed by this alone, for the Pharisee was condemned for this very thing.
            
            A good grape picker chooses to eat ripe grapes and does not pluck what is unripe.  A charitable and sensible mind takes careful note of the virtues it observes in another, while the fool goes looking for faults and defects.  It is of such a one that is was said, "They have searched out iniquity and died in the search" (Ps. 63:7).
            
            Do not condemn.  Not even if your very eyes are seeing something, for they may be deceived.

Ladder of Divine Ascent - On Malice or the Remembrance of Wrongs




             Remembrance of wrongs is the offspring of anger and its culmination.  It holds on to another's sins.  Climacus describes it as a poison of the soul.  The seriousness of this cannot be underestimated for, he states, "a malicious hesychast is like a lurking snake carrying about its own deadly poison."  It is deadly to the soul because it makes a mockery of its prayer and stifles true love.
            In order to rid ourselves of this vice, we must purge ourselves of anger.  Our greatest weapon in this task is the Lord's Prayer.  For we cannot but be put to shame for our maliciousness when we ceaselessly cry out to God to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. 
            We may also be healed of this passion through looking to the example of Christ's long suffering and his patient endurance of the many wrongs done to him. 



1-6            Malice defined and described.

            Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger.  It is a keeper of sins.  It hates a just way of life.  It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind.  It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul.  It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness.  It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour.

7-14            How malice can be overcome and the true sign that it has been mastered.  Forgetting of wrongs is the sure means of being forgiven.
            
            Let your malice and your spite be turned against the devils.  Treat your body always as an enemy, for the flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend.  The more you look after it, the more it hurts you.

            Let the prayer of Jesus put it to shame, that prayer which cannot be uttered in the company of malice.
            
            If after great effort you still fail to root out this thorn, go to your enemy and apologize, if only with empty words whose insincerity may shame you.  Then as conscience, like a fire, comes to give you pain, you may find that a sincere love of your enemy may come to life.
            
           A true sign of having completely mastered this putrefaction will come not when you pray for the man who offended you, not when you give him presents, not when you invite him to share a meal with you, but only when, on hearing of some catastrophe that has afflicted him in body or soul, you suffer and you lament for him as if for yourself.

            The remembrance of what Jesus suffered is a cure for remembrance of wrongs, shaming it powerfully with His patient endurance.

            Some labor and struggle hard to earn forgiveness, but better than these is the man who forgets the wrongs done to him.  Forgive quickly and you will be abundantly forgiven.  To forget wrongs is to prove oneself truly repentant, but to brood on them and at the same time to imagine one is practicing repentance is to act like the man who is convinced he is running when in fact he is fast asleep.

15-16            Concluding remarks and exhortation.

            Never imagine that this dark vice is a passion of no importance, for it often reaches out even to spiritual men.
           
            Such is the ninth step.  Let him who has taken it have the courage henceforth to ask Jesus the Savior to free him from his sins.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI on St. John Climacus and the Ladder of Divine Ascent


Can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us?



Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After 20 Catecheses dedicated to the Apostle Paul, today I would like to return to presenting the great writers of the Church of the East and of the West in the Middle Ages. And I am proposing the figure of John known as Climacus, a Latin transliteration of the Greek term klimakos, which means of the ladder (klimax). This is the title of his most important work in which he describes the ladder of human life ascending towards God. He was born in about 575 a.d. He lived, therefore, during the years in which Byzantium, the capital of the Roman Empire of the East, experienced the greatest crisis in its history. The geographical situation of the Empire suddenly changed and the torrent of barbarian invasions swept away all its structures. Only the structure of the Church withstood them, continuing in these difficult times to carry out her missionary, human, social and cultural action, especially through the network of monasteries in which great religious figures such as, precisely, John Climacus were active.
John lived and told of his spiritual experiences in the Mountains of Sinai, where Moses encountered God and Elijah heard his voice. Information on him has been preserved in a brief Life (PG 88, 596-608), written by a monk, Daniel of Raithu. At the age of 16, John, who had become a monk on Mount Sinai, made himself a disciple of Abba Martyr, an "elder", that is, a "wise man". At about 20 years of age, he chose to live as a hermit in a grotto at the foot of the mountain in the locality of Tola, eight kilometres from the present-day St Catherine's Monastery. Solitude, however, did not prevent him from meeting people eager for spiritual direction, or from paying visits to several monasteries near Alexandria. In fact, far from being an escape from the world and human reality, his eremitical retreat led to ardent love for others (Life, 5) and for God (ibid., 7). After 40 years of life as a hermit, lived in love for God and for neighbour years in which he wept, prayed and fought with demons he was appointed hegumen of the large monastery on Mount Sinai and thus returned to cenobitic life in a monastery. However, several years before his death, nostalgic for the eremitical life, he handed over the government of the community to his brother, a monk in the same monastery.
John died after the year 650. He lived his life between two mountains, Sinai and Tabor and one can truly say that he radiated the light which Moses saw on Sinai and which was contemplated by the three Apostles on Mount Tabor!
He became famous, as I have already said, through his work, entitled The Climax, in the West known as the Ladder of Divine Ascent (PG 88, 632-1164). Composed at the insistent request of the hegumen of the neighbouring Monastery of Raithu in Sinai, the Ladder is a complete treatise of spiritual life in which John describes the monk's journey from renunciation of the world to the perfection of love. This journey according to his book covers 30 steps, each one of which is linked to the next. The journey may be summarized in three consecutive stages: the first is expressed in renunciation of the world in order to return to a state of evangelical childhood. Thus, the essential is not the renunciation but rather the connection with what Jesus said, that is, the return to true childhood in the spiritual sense, becoming like children. John comments: "A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is: innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3: 1) begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes" (1, 20; 636). Voluntary detachment from beloved people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience which is the way to humility through humiliations which will never be absent on the part of the brethren. John comments: "Blessed is he who has mortified his will to the very end and has entrusted the care of himself to his teacher in the Lord: indeed he will be placed on the right hand of the Crucified One!" (4, 37; 704).
The second stage of the journey consists in spiritual combat against the passions. Every step of the ladder is linked to a principal passion that is defined and diagnosed, with an indication of the treatment and a proposal of the corresponding virtue. All together, these steps of the ladder undoubtedly constitute the most important treatise of spiritual strategy that we possess. The struggle against the passions, however, is steeped in the positive it does not remain as something negative thanks to the image of the "fire" of the Holy Spirit: that "all those who enter upon the good fight (cf. 1 Tm 6: 12), which is hard and narrow,... may realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them" (1,18; 636). The fire of the Holy Spirit is the fire of love and truth. The power of the Holy Spirit alone guarantees victory. However, according to John Climacus it is important to be aware that the passions are not evil in themselves; they become so through human freedom's wrong use of them. If they are purified, the passions reveal to man the path towards God with energy unified by ascesis and grace and, "if they have received from the Creator an order and a beginning..., the limit of virtue is boundless" (26/2, 37; 1068).
The last stage of the journey is Christian perfection that is developed in the last seven steps of the Ladder. These are the highest stages of spiritual life, which can be experienced by the "Hesychasts": the solitaries, those who have attained quiet and inner peace; but these stages are also accessible to the more fervent cenobites. Of the first three simplicity, humility and discernment John, in line with the Desert Fathers, considered the ability to discern, the most important. Every type of behaviour must be subject to discernment; everything, in fact, depends on one's deepest motivations, which need to be closely examined. Here one enters into the soul of the person and it is a question of reawakening in the hermit, in the Christian, spiritual sensitivity and a "feeling heart", which are gifts from God: "After God, we ought to follow our conscience as a rule and guide in everything," (26/1,5; 1013). In this way one reaches tranquillity of soul, hesychia, by means of which the soul may gaze upon the abyss of the divine mysteries.
The state of quiet, of inner peace, prepares the Hesychast for prayer which in John is twofold: "corporeal prayer" and "prayer of the heart". The former is proper to those who need the help of bodily movement: stretching out the hands, uttering groans, beating the breast, etc. (15, 26; 900). The latter is spontaneous, because it is an effect of the reawakening of spiritual sensitivity, a gift of God to those who devote themselves to corporeal prayer. In John this takes the name "Jesus prayer" (Iesou euche), and is constituted in the invocation of solely Jesus' name, an invocation that is continuous like breathing: "May your remembrance of Jesus become one with your breathing, and you will then know the usefulness of hesychia", inner peace (27/2, 26; 1112). At the end the prayer becomes very simple: the word "Jesus" simply becomes one with the breath.
The last step of the ladder (30), suffused with "the sober inebriation of the spirit", is dedicated to the supreme "trinity of virtues": faith, hope and above all charity. John also speaks of charity as eros (human love), a symbol of the matrimonial union of the soul with God, and once again chooses the image of fire to express the fervour, light and purification of love for God. The power of human love can be reoriented to God, just as a cultivated olive may be grafted on to a wild olive tree (cf. Rm 11: 24) (cf. 15, 66; 893). John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros will help the soul to advance far more than the harsh struggle against the passions, because of its great power. Thus, in our journey, the positive aspect prevails. Yet charity is also seen in close relation to hope: "Hope is the power that drives love. Thanks to hope, we can look forward to the reward of charity.... Hope is the doorway of love.... The absence of hope destroys charity: our efforts are bound to it, our labours are sustained by it, and through it we are enveloped by the mercy of God" (30, 16; 1157). The conclusion of the Ladder contains the synthesis of the work in words that the author has God himself utter: "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the summit of the ladder, and as my great initiate (St Paul) said: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13: 13)!" (30, 18; 1160).
At this point, a last question must be asked: can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us? At first glance it would seem that the answer must be "no", because John Climacus is too remote from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection. The fact that the top of the "ladder", the final steps, are at the same time the fundamental, initial and most simple virtues is particularly important to me: faith, hope and charity. These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes; rather they are gifts of God to all the baptized: in them our life develops too. The beginning is also the end, the starting point is also the point of arrival: the whole journey towards an ever more radical realization of faith, hope and charity. The whole ascent is present in these virtues. Faith is fundamental, because this virtue implies that I renounce my arrogance, my thought, and the claim to judge by myself without entrusting myself to others. This journey towards humility, towards spiritual childhood is essential. It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I know better, in this my time of the 21st century, than what people could have known then. Instead, it is necessary to entrust oneself to Sacred Scripture alone, to the word of the Lord, to look out on the horizon of faith with humility, in order to enter into the enormous immensity of the universal world, of the world of God. In this way our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart grows toward God. Rightly, John Climacus says that hope alone renders us capable of living charity; hope in which we transcend the things of every day, we do not expect success in our earthly days but we look forward to the revelation of God himself at last. It is only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, that our life becomes great and that we are able to bear the effort and disappointments of every day, that we can be kind to others without expecting any reward. Only if there is God, this great hope to which I aspire, can I take the small steps of my life and thus learn charity. The mystery of prayer, of the personal knowledge of Jesus, is concealed in charity: simple prayer that strives only to move the divine Teacher's heart. So it is that one's own heart opens, one learns from him his own kindness, his love. Let us therefore use this "ascent" of faith, hope and charity. In this way we will arrive at true life.

Vatican, Feb. 11, 2009

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Letters from a Russian Monk: On Consulting the Like-Minded When Lacking a Spiritual Guide


It is a great good fortune for us to have the books of the Holy Fathers, for they speak in detail about the spiritual life.  Of course it would be good to lead a spiritual life under the guidance of a spiritual director,  but holy men have become fewer, and without a director it is very dangerous to be guided only by books, just in the way a person who has not studied medicine can go to the pharmacy and choose something poisonous instead of useful medicines.  However, we must not despair.  Let us make the publican’s humility our foundation and the Lord in his goodness will help us sinners and deliver us from disasters on the spiritual path.  And let us repent of our weaknesses, for all the wrestlers for piety have held to humility and penitence.

The great staretz Paissy Velichokovsky also grieved that there were no guides, but on the basis of his experience in the spiritual life he advised simply consulting with likeminded people, discussing and reading together the books of the Holy Fathers.  So your group is very useful, for you exchange ideas there.  You need not be worried when there are differences of opinion: this happens even among the spiritual wrestlers.  God is one, and people come to Him from different directions.  So it is very precious and useful to have a like-minded person to talk with.

The Lord keep you!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Repentance Recreates Man


To fall and be injured is human, since—even if a man’s life lasted for only one day—his mind is inclined to evil from his youth (cf. Gen. 8:21 ). But to fall and remain fallen is not human. Repentance recreates man; it was given to us to cure the soul after baptism. If it did not exist, rarely would a person be saved. That is why, the virtue of repentance is unending as long as man is alive, for only the perfect do not err. My children, every time you see your thoughts reproaching you for some sin, immediately take the medicine: repent, weep, go to confession, and behold, you return to your former and better state.
- “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”, selected from the letters and homilies of Elder Ephraim

Letters from a Russian Monk: Humility and Penitence

St. John of the Ladder wonders at our strange condition: why is it that although we have the all powerful God and the angels and holy people to help us do good, and only the crafty evil spirit to help us to sin, still we are more readily and easily moved to passions and vices than to virtue?  The question was left open.  The saint did not want to explain it to us.  However, one can guess that our nature, corrupted by disobedience, and the world with its various stupefying temptations are helping the devil, and the Lord does not infringe upon our sovereign will.  We should strive for virtue to the limit of our strength, but to stand firm in virtue is not in our power but in the Lord's  The Lord preserves us in virtue in response not to our labors but to our humility.  Where there has been a fall, it has been preceded by pride, says John of the Ladder.  But the Lord in his mercy has given penitence to us feeble ones, since our corrupted nature is so very prone to sin.  The Holy Fathers from their own experience have studied minutely the subtleties of our nature and they console us, offering detailed writings on ways to combat sin.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - On Placidity and Meekness


  
           It is only through attaining the virtue of mourning spoken of in the previous step that placidity and meekness may be achieved.  For it is mourning which destroys all anger and any desire to be spoken well of in this life.
            Placidity, or freedom from anger, begins when one keeps silent even when the heart is moved and provoked.  Slowly the virtue develops as one learns to control and silence his thoughts during an angry encounter.  Eventually one is able to remain calm even when a tempest rages about him. 
            Freeing oneself from anger, however, requires great humility and meekness.  For to be free from anger necessitates that one be calm, peaceful and loving to a person who has treated him wrongly.  This is what makes a monastery such a wonderful training ground in John's eyes.  For it is there that one is purified through the constant reproofs and rebuffs of his fellow monks.  Such reproof gradually cleanses a soul of this passion. 

1-8            Placidity and Meekness and their opposites are defined. 

            As the gradual pouring of water on a fire puts out the flame completely, so the tears of genuine mourning can extinguish every flame of anger and irascibility.  Hence this comes next in our sequence.
            Freedom from anger is an endless wish for dishonor, whereas among the vainglorious there is a limitless thirst for praise.  Freedom from anger is a triumph over one's nature.  It is the ability to be impervious to insults, and comes by hard work and the sweat of one's brow.
            Meekness is a permanent condition of that soul which remains unaffected by whether or not it is spoken well of, whether or not it is honored or praised.
            The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when, the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.
            Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed.  Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you.
            Irascibility is an untimely flaring up of the heart.  Bitterness is a stirring of the soul's capacity for displeasure.  Anger is an easily changed movement of one's disposition, a disfigurement of the soul.

9            The great spiritual damage that even a moment of anger can bring.

            A quick movement of a millstone can grind in one moment and do away with more of the soul's grain and fruit than another crushes in a whole day.  So we must be understanding and we must pay attention, for a strong sudden wind may fan a blaze that will cause more damage to the field of the heart than a lingering flame could ever manage to achieve.  Let us not forget, my friends, that evil demons sometimes leave us unexpectedly, with the result that we may become careless about these strong passions within us, thinking them to be of no consequence, and become, therefore, incurably ill.

10-12            The common life and overcoming anger.

            Take are hard stone with sharp corners.  Knock it and rub it against other stones, until its sharpness and hardness are crushed by the knocking and rubbing and, at last, it is made round.  So too, take a soul that is rough and abrupt.  Put it into the community and company of tough short-tempered men.  One of two things must happen: Either it learns through patience to cure its wound, or it will run away and, by so doing, it will learn its weakness, its cowardly flight showing it up as if in a mirror.

13-14            Signs of true meekness and its absence.

            A sign of utter meekness is to have a heart peacefully and lovingly disposed toward someone who has been offensive, and a sure proof of a hot temper is that a man, even when he is alone, should with word and gesture continue to rage and fulminate against some absent person who has given the offense.

15-30            Anger and its causes must be studied carefully.  The wrong response can actually worsen the problem. Their are many causes for the passion of anger.  Each case must be diagnosed and dealt with individually.  Again, John stresses that some forms of life are better suited for those who struggle with anger.  In his mind the communal life offers the greatest hope in overcoming this vice.

            . . . I have seen men who appeared to be displaying stolid patience, but who, in reality, were silently harboring resentment within themselves.  These, it seems to me, were much more to be pitied than the men prone to explosions of temper, because what they were doing was to keep away the holy white dove with that black gall of theirs.  So this is a serpent that has to be handled carefully, for, like the snake of sensuality, it has nature as its ally.
            I have seen angry men push food away out of sheer bitterness.  And yet by this kind of unreasonable abstinence they merely added poison to poison. 

            You will note that many irritable persons practice vigils, fasting and stillness.  For the devils are trying to suggest to them, under cover of penance and mourning, what is quite likely to increase their passion.

            Someone who notices that he is easily overcome by pride, a nasty temper, malice, and hypocrisy, and who thinks of defending himself against these by unsheathing the double-edged sword of meekness and patience, such a man if he wishes to break free entirely from these vices ought to live in a monastery, as if it were a fuller's shop of salvation.  In particular, he should choose the most austere place.  He will be spiritually stretched and beaten by the insults, injuries, and rebuffs of the brothers.  He may even be physically beaten, trampled on, and kicked, so that he may wash out the filth still lying in the sentient part of his soul.  There is an old saying that reproof is the washtub for the soul's passions, and you ought to believe it, for people in the world who load indignities onto someone and then boast about it to others like to say, "I gave him a good scrubbing."  Which, of course, is quite accurate. 

            The fever suffered by the body is a single symptom but has many causes.  Similarly, the seething movement of our anger and our other passions arises for many different reasons, so that the same cure cannot be offered for all of them.  Hence I would propose that each sick man should very carefully look for his own particular cure, and the first step here is the diagnosis of the cause of the disease.  When this is known, the patients will get the right cure from the hands of God and from their spiritual doctors.  Those who wish to join us in the Lord should therefore come to the spiritual tribunal where we can be tested in various ways and find out about the passions referred to above as well as their causes.


 31-32            Concluding remarks and exhortation.

            So, then, anger the oppressor must be restrained by the chains of meekness, beaten by patience, hauled away by blessed love.  Take it before the tribunal of reason and have it examined in the following terms: "Wretch, tell us the name of your father, the name of the mother who bore you to bring calamity into the world, the names of your loathsome sons and daughters.  Tell us, also who your enemies are and who has the power to kill you."  And this is how anger replies: "I come from many sources and I have more than one father.  My mothers are Vainglory, Avarice, Greed.  And Lust too.  My father is named Conceit.  My Daughters have the names Remembrance of Wrongs, Hate, Hostility and Self-Justification.  The enemies who have imprisoned me are the opposite virtues - Freedom from Anger and Lowliness, while Humility lays a trap for me.  As for Humility, ask in due time who it was that bore her."
            On the eighth step the crown is freedom from anger.  He who wears it by nature may never come to wear another.  But he who has sweated for it and won it has conquered all eight together.