The Ladder Image and Humility

We are so accustomed to use of the ladder image in scripture and patristics that we often fail to think about it. Ladders are purely utilitarian objects we have to use from time to time. When Benedict says, as he does in today’s section of the Rule, RB 7. 5–9, that our life is like a ladder and our bodies and souls constitute the sides of a ladder of our ascending actions which the Lord draws up into heaven, we do not always register how positive he is. We are given in ourselves all the graces and helps we need to respond to our vocation. It is our very humanity, our frailty and fickleness, that God chooses to work with and transform.

We may think of ladders as a means of going both up and down, but for Benedict there is only one way — up. Yes, he acknowledges that pride may send us down the ladder, but he is much more confident that we will go up. His confidence is based not on any innate virtue on our part but on the Lord, who wills our salvation and provides all things necessary. The steps of humility and discipline we have to climb are not strange or unusual. We do not have to be spiritual athletes. We just have to pitch our ladder on firm ground (God) and start climbing, knowing that the Lord will do all the really heavy work of hauling us upwards. For a lazy person like me, that is rather reassuring. It is also, quite literally, humbling.