The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Chastity

From The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus:

"Do not imagine that you will overwhelm the demon of fornication by entering into an argument with him. Nature is on his side and he has the best of the argument. So the man who decides to struggle against his own flesh and to overcome it by his own efforts is fighting in vain. The truth is that unless the Lord overturns the house of the flesh and builds the house of the soul, the man wishing to overcome it has watched and fasted for nothing. Offer up to the Lord the weakness of your nature. Admit your incapacity and, without your knowing it, you will win for yourself the gift of chastity."

"Our relentless enem, the techer of fornication, whispers that God is lenient and particularly mericfull to this passion, since it is so very natural. Yet if we watch the wiles of the demons we will observe that after we have actually sinned they will affirm that God is a just and inexorable judge. They say that one thing to lead us to sin, another thing to overwhelm us in despair. And if we are sorrowful or inclined to despair, we are slower to sin again, but when the sorrow and the despair have been quenched, the tyranical demon begins to speak to us again of God's mercy."

Having experienced this, I know this to be true. 

"We have to be  especially sober and watchful when we are lying in bed, for that is the time when our mind has to contend with demons outside the body. And if our body is inclined to be sensual then it will easily betray us. So let the remembrance of death and the concise Jesus Prayergo to sleep with you and get up with you, for nothing helps you as these do when you are asleep."

"All demons try to darken our minds so that they may then sugest to us what they want us to do, and so long as the mind stays awake we will not be robbed of our treasure. But the demon of fornication tries harder than all the others. First, by darkening our minds, which guide us, it urges and inclines us in the presense of other people to do things that only the mad would think of. Then whe our minds are cleared we become ashamed of these unholy deeds, words, and gestures, not only before those who saw us but before ourselves, and we are astounded by this earlier blindness of ours. The result is that frequently as a consequence of realizing what happened, men turn away from this particular evil."

While I haven't performed mad acts in the presense of others, I do know that when I come down from the neurochemical high that pornography and self-abuse induce, I usually feel less than human – a disgusting worm or maggot – and I am indeed "astounded by this earlier blindness". If only that were enough to cure me…

"By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine? By what precedent can I judge him? Before I can bind him he is let loose, before I can condemn him I am reconciled to him, before I can punish him I bow down to him and feel sorry for him. How can I hate him when my nature disposes me to love him? How can I break away from him when I am bound to him forever? How can I escape from him when he is going to rise with me? How can I make him incorrupt when he has received a corruptible nature? How can I argue with him when all the arguments of nature are on his side?"

[…]

"What is this mystery in me? What is the principle of this mixture of body and soul? How can I be my own friend and my own enemy? Speak to me! Speak to me, my yoke-fellow, my nature! I cannot ask anyone else about you. How can I remain uninjured by you? How can I escape the danger of my own nature? I have made a promise to Christ that I will fight you, yet how can I defeat your tyranny? But this I have resolved, namely, that I am going to master you."

"And this is what the flesh might say in reply: 'I will never tell you what you do not already know. I will speak the knowledge we both have. Within me is my begetter, the love fo self. The fire that comes to me from outside is too much pampering and care. The fire within me is past ease and things long done. I conceived and give birth to sins, and theywhen born beget death by despair in their turn. And yet if you have learned the sure and rooted weakness within both you and me, you have manacled my hands. If you starve your longings, you have bound my feet, and they can travel no further. If you have taken up the yoke of obedience, you have cast my yoke aside. If you have taken possession of humility, you have cut off my head.'" 

Comments 2

  1. JustSayAnonymous wrote:

    Thank you for posting this. I know that it is no coincidence that I have stumbled across this today. I am going through a very difficult time, something I thought I had long progessed past, only to find it arise again, and showing me how deeply the temptation to this sin (particularly unchastity of thought in regard to one particular person) is rooted within me. But I suppose as long as we have life in our bones, this tempation will always be possible. These Saint’s words are a God-send to me.

    Posted 08 Sep 2006 at 6:51 am
  2. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Matt Lickona (of Godsbody) mentions in his first (and sadly so far only) book, Swimming With Scapulars, a small practice of daily mortification, wherein he turns the shower water to cold and recites three Hail Marys. I have tried to keep this discipline myself and have found that, along with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the grace of God, it has helped me to better keep my vows. It’s not merely superstition, but rather a physical (i.e., sacramental) way of reaffirming your commitment to Christ and the crosses he sees fit to place on our shoulders. And just in case you’re not already doing this, confessing any failures to your wife is a way of avoiding a mortal sin not often associated with violation of the 6th and 9th Commandments, i.e., that of violating the 8th.

    My $0.02

    Posted 08 Sep 2006 at 11:38 pm

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