The Ladder to Heaven

“Truly, the cross of Christ is a ladder reaching into heaven from earth, because through the faith of the cross, through imitation of the Passion, man returns from exile to the homeland, from death to life, from earth to heaven, from the desert of this world to paradise. By this ladder the angels ascend and descend, that is, the preachers of Christ, descend, when they preach the weakness of the cross; they ascend, when they preach the wisdom and power of God; for the foolishness of Christ is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I Cor. 1:25) Christ was nailed to this ladder when he was nailed to the cross.” Alan of Lille, De sancta cruce (On the Holy Cross), Patrologia Latina, vol. 210, col. 224. [My translation]

Alan of Lille, a Parisian theologian in the twelfth century, wrote these words in a sermon for Good Friday.  His work reflects the interest among teachers at that time in the Christ’s redemption of sinners on the cross.  This sermon describes the Passion of Christ as steps on the ladder of the cross.  These steps include Christ’s mercy, humility, obedience, penalty, suffering, and death.  Alan explains how Christ climbed these steps in place of sinners.  He concluded:

“The final step in the Passion was death. A marvelous death, a death which kills off death itself, gives life, weakens the sting of death, conquers the devil, and eradicates sin.  Through these steps of the ladder, Christ ascended into heaven. However, there was a triple ascent of Christ. The first, he ascended as he suffered [on the cross].  The second, he ascended when he was brought back to life.  The third, he ascended as he was glorified at the right hand of the Father.  In the first ascent, he ascended to death.  In the second, he ascended to immortality. In the third, he ascended to majesty.” PL 210:225 [My translation]

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