Saint John Climacus On Nature and Sin

One first and basic mistake that one can make when studying theology, or the Bible in general, is to assume that the Fall of man in the Garden has left us without any inclination at all to live for God, and that we are born with a completely depraved heart. There are many problems with this type of language, the first being that it does not give glory to God and His creative order. We know that after the Fall man lost a very special communion with God, but Chapter Four of Genesis shows that after the Fall, Adam’s children, Cain and Abel, gave offerings to the Lord! As we proclaim in the Creeds and Councils,  Christ is begotten and not made. He has been there from the beginning of creation and has not left us because we were somehow unworthy of Him. As the 13th century icon of Christ with Adam and Eve shows, He has always loved us!

We are created in the very image of God and it is important to note that our natural way of living is to live within the oneness of Christ. The Fall does not make our natural state depraved to where we have no desire for God. We are not destined to sin and the sin that we do acquire is literally able to be diminished through Christ.

It is a modern notion to understand that sin is only forgiven in a legal manner (so-called “justification”) and that we must simply prevent it from manifesting outwardly. It is the heart that God changes through our sanctification, which means that our souls actually become freed from these sinful properties. Sin is acquired by our senses, which is why we embrace the ascetic life of fasting, meditation, prayer, and service. Our “passions” are brought on by our own foolishness, so let us plead to God for Wisdom!

“Passion was not planted by God in nature,  for he is not the Creator of passions…God is not the cause of evil. Those who teach that passions are natural to the soul are wrong, not realizing that it is we who have turned natural things into passions. For example, by nature we have within us the seed necessary for child-bearing – but we have perverted this into fornication. Nature gave us the feeling of anger, which we are supposed to use against the Evil One – instead we use it against our neighbor…We have been given a longing for pleasure – but we use it for dissipation.” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent).


  1. It’s strange to think I used to embrace the Reformers idea that EVERYTHING we do and are by nature is sinful even after conversion, as if grace entirely replaces nature in the saving economy of God. Thankfully, examining Christ’s human nature clears that stuff up :-)

  2. I used to embrace it also, but I always despised the legal aspect that we were basically never really cleansed from our sin except legally.

  3. As I recall, Lutherans believe, that after coversion, our deeds are cleansed by God’s grace and are now accepted by Him. Is this in conflict with the Orthodox view? I know the original sin and state of man is way off, and they don’t match up at all.

  4. Toby, can you post the actual portion of the Lutheran catechism on that?

  5. I could not find the information in Luther’s Catechism, but I did find it in the following document (I included the link if you prefer to read it directly):

    A Treatise on Good Works
    together with the Letter of Dedication
    by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520

    IV. Now every one can note and tell for himself when he does what is good or what is not good; for if he finds his heart confident that it pleases God, the work is good, even if it were so small a thing as picking up a straw. If confidence is absent, or if he doubts, the work is not good, although it should raise all the dead and the man should give himself to be burned. This is the teaching of St. Paul, Romans xiv: “Whatsoever is not done of or in faith is sin.” Faith, as the chief work, and no other work, has given us the name of “believers on Christ.” For all other works a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, a sinner, may also do; but to trust firmly that he pleases God, is possible only for a Christian who is enlightened and strengthened by grace.

    That these words seem strange, and that some call me a heretic because of them, is due to the fact that men have followed blind reason and heathen ways, have set faith not above, but beside other virtues, and have given it a work of its own, apart from all works of the other virtues; although faith alone makes all other works good, acceptable and worthy, in that it trusts God and does not doubt that for it all things that a man does are well done. Indeed, they have not let faith remain a work, but have made a habitus of it, as they say, although Scripture gives the name of a good, divine work to no work except to faith alone. Therefore it is no wonder that they have become blind and leaders of the blind. And this faith brings with it at once love, peace, joy and hope. For God gives His Spirit at once to him who trusts Him, as St. Paul says to the Galatians: “You received the Spirit not because of your good works, but when you believed the Word of God.”

    V. In this faith all works become equal, and one is like the other; all distinctions between works fall away, whether they be great, small, short, long, few or many. For the works are acceptable not for their own sake, but because of the faith which alone is, works and lives in each and every work without distinction, however numerous and various they are, just as all the members of the body live, work and have their name from the head, and without the head no member can live, work and have a name.

  6. I don’t see that particular part to be in direct conflict with Orthodoxy. Faith is needed as one works out their salvation.

    Where he quotes Saint Paul, he makes it sound that there is some type of instantaneous conversion through “believing.” Saint Paul is not saying that at all, rather he is comparing faith to the ceremonial law that the Jewish converts were holding on to. He also makes it look like works only matter on a legal basis, which Orthodoxy does not hold to.

    I think it is hard to follow Luther in many of his writings. He was introducing paradigms that were not embraced by the fathers and he gets very emotional in his much of his writings. I think much of them are overzealous and confusing, especially as he attempts to speak of faith and works. I like to bring up the fact that he thought Saint James did not belong in the Canon, which, to me, proves he was very confused.

  7. The further I travel on my journey the more I agree with your last post, Michael. It is difficult to scrub many of the heresies from my brain…especially Luther’s. I thought I had truly found my journeys end when I became a Lutheran, so his teachings are especially difficult to overwrite.

  8. Toby, Luther, like much of Protestant theology, is very simplistic, which can be very tempting for us who gravitate toward slothfulness.

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