Throughout the Ladder John Climacus discusses the logical progression from one vice to another. And so it is with the vice of falsehood. It arises out of undisciplined chatter, talkativeness and foolery. Falsehood, or lying, John states, is the destroyer of charity and perjury is the denial of God himself. Thus, he tells us, we must not be fooled into thinking that lying is a minor offense. In reality, it is a sin "above all others."
The effects of one who lies are not restricted to himself, but have the consequence of leading others into sin. Through their ability to deceive, and provoke laughter in doing so, they often distract others from their spiritual pursuits and dry up their tears of contrition. Therefore, John argues that we should seek to separate ourselves from such people, or, when appropriate and helpful, to offer fraternal correction with charity.
To combat such a vice we must foster a genuine fear of the Lord and the judgement He will bring. A strong and well-formed conscience will serve us well in this task. Likewise, true compunction will aid us in this struggle. Sorrow for one's sins will destroy this vice.
1-2 Falsehood defined: where it comes from and what it leads to in the spiritual life.
From flint and steel comes fire; from chatter and joking comes lying. Lying is the destruction of charity, and perjury the very denial of God.
No sensible man imagines that lying is a minor failing. Indeed the All-Holy Spirit pronounced the most dreadful sentence on this sin above all others; and if, as David says to God, "You will destroy everyone speaking a lie" (Ps. 5:7), what will happen to those who swear to their lies on oath?
3 How one must respond to lying and liars.
I have seen men, proud of their ability to lie, and exciting laughter by their clowning and joking, who have miserably destroyed in their hearers the habit of mourning. But when the demons observe that we stay clear of the sallies of some outstanding wit, as though we were avoiding the plague, they try to catch us with two seemingly plausible thoughts, namely that we should not be offensive to the person telling the witty story and we should not give the appearance of loving God more than he does. Be off! Do not dawdle! Otherwise the jokes will start coming back to you when you are at prayer. But do not simply run away. Break up the bad company in a devout way by setting before them the thought of death and judgment . . . .
4 The Mother and cause of lying.
Hypocrisy is the mother of lying and frequently its cause. Some would argue that hypocrisy is nothing other than a meditation on falsehood, that it is the inventor of falsehood laced with lies.
5 What makes one give up lying: the fear of God and a good conscience.
The man gifted with fear of the Lord has given up lying, for within him he has conscience, that incorruptible judge.
6 Various forms of lying. Each harms in its own way.
Various kinds of harm can be observed in the passions, and lying is no exception. So one judgment awaits the man who lies out of fear, another the liar who has nothing at all to worry about. One man lies for the sheer pleasure of it, another for amusement, another to raise a laugh among bystanders, another to trap his brother and do him harm.
7-8 Some lies mask themselves as prudence and as serving the good. Admittedly, John states, there may be some circumstances when one may resort to concealing the truth, but only when there is no desire to do such a thing and when compelled by fear or necessity. True innocence, however, knows nothing of this vice.
Magistrates can root out lying with tortures, though it is an abundance of tears that truly destroys it. A man may lie on the grounds of prudence, and indeed regards as an act of righteousness the actual destruction of his own soul. The inventor of lies declares that he is following the example of Rahab and maintains that his own destruction is the cause of salvation for others.
Only when we are completely free of the urge to lie may we resort to it, and then only in fear and out of necessity. A baby does not know how to lie, and neither does a soul cleansed of evil.
9-10 One who is honest with himself will be honest with others. Truth, John concludes, is the root of all blessings. The more we tell the truth the more pure our hearts become and the more surely and intimately do we know God. "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit" (1 Peter 3:10).
A man drunk on wine unwittingly tells the truth about everything. And a man drunk with compunction cannot lie.
This is the twelfth step. The man who has taken it has obtained the root of all blessings.