I would like to reproduce Step 10 of John the Scholastic’s Ladder in toto because it was so profoundly moving for me, but time and copyright laws mitigate against that. Instead, I will offer up a few excerpts that were particularly potent.
The tenth step on St. John’s Ladder of Divine Ascent is about overcoming slander. Slander here is not used in the modern sense of false, defamatory remarks. Instead, we slander one another, according to St. John, when we point out each other’s sins either privately to another or even in our own hearts. It is a practice so commonplace and so thoroughly rationalized that to hear it called slander is a little galling. Yet, St. John more than adequately makes his point. I’ll let him speak for himself.
“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.”
“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 [i.e. 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: ‘Then stop that kind of love, or else you will be making a liar out of him who declared, ‘I drove away the man who secretly slandered his neighbor’ (Ps. 100:5). 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.”
“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 him?’ You accomplish two things when you say this. You heal yourself and you heal your neighbor with the one bandage.”
“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.”
I write this not as an exhortation to others but as a public form of self-conviction, an acknowledgement of the depth of my own guilt in this area.
I wrote previously on the remembrance of our sins. There I argued that only once we truly appreciated our sins could we truly appreciate God’s grace. Here, St. John expands the value of an acute awareness of sin. When I truly recognize the depth of my own depravity, how can I even begin to look down on the sins of anyone else? I know that I would prefer, as he said, that people who saw me sinning would pray secretly for me rather than discussing my sin with someone else or even holding a record of it in their own hearts. I hope for my part, that the next time I consider making a passing comment to my wife about some girl’s immodesty, I will remember this: “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.”