574J  Climacus, Johannes (approximately 579-approximately 649)

Joannis Climaci doctoris                                                                           spiritualis abbatis in                                                                                           Mo[n]te synai trigin                                                                                                        =ta gradus scale                                                                                                       celestis noui                                                                                                                    ter eme[n]d                                                                                                                     ati, ac im                                                                                                               pressio                                                                                                                                  ni tra                                                                                                                                   diti.


Venice: Philippo Pincio Mantuano 1518                 Price $1,800

Octavo 15 x 10 CM. Signatures: a-p8,q4.  Bound in a leaf from a 13th century vellum manuscript.

As you can see the Title page is just that the title and no more. Like manuscript produced before printed books, the need for a printer and a date of printing don’t obviously need to be stated. ( save that for after the work is finished) The Text of this book hardly has much worldly about it, making no easy link to the previous work, instead this is a spiritual /mystic journey (one of my favorite genres)

With subjects such as Orthodox Eastern Authors, whose Spiritual Life were lives of great solitude authorship is as much tradition as fact and  so it must be with the author listed as Saint John meaning Saint John Climacus or John of the Ladder.  His dates are around the mid-6th century to the early 7th century, the exact dates are hard to pin down as all accounts vary slightly with the exact year but many seem to agree on the years 525-606. others b. 579; d. 649,” ?

He visited the Vatos Monastery (now Saint Catherine’s) on Mount Sinai at the age of sixteen. After his initial visit he was taught about spiritual living by Martyrius John. He removed himself to hermitage and lived that way for twenty years reading about the various saints of the Roman Catholic religion. For this reason he became one of the most learned doctors of the church. He eventually became abbot of the monastery as well. At the age of seventy he was asked by the monks on Sinai to become their head. The pope even sent money for the hospital at Sinai after hearing of his works. As he neared death at around seventy five he resigned from his position as head and secluded himself once again in hermitage to prepare for his death.

There is a story that during his time as a monk he had a disciple named Moses. One afternoon Moses went to fertilize the garden and fell asleep. Saint John is said to have had a vision of an angel asking why he was sleeping when Moses was in danger so John prayed. When Moses returned he told Saint John that a rock would have fallen on him had he not heard Saint John calling for him. Saint John kept this vision to himself but thanked God.

While it is one of the first self-help books ever written.(aren’t all books for self help?)  It’s a step-by-step guide—literally—to achieving spiritual perfection. It is divided into thirty “gradi” or steps. As the New Catholic Encyclopedia describes it:

. . . The ascetic life is portrayed in the form of a ladder that the monk must ascend, each step on the ladder representing a virtue that must be acquired or a vice that must be eradicated. There are 30 steps. . . . Each step is the subject of a chapter in which the author describes the virtue or vice in question and shows the way in which it is to be acquired or eliminated.

He is known to have written the Ladder of Divine Ascent composed at the request of the Abbot of Raithu. This work describes how to raise one’s soul and body to God through ascetic virtues. These virtures are set up as a ladder according to Saint John. On each tier there is something different to use for the furthering of religious consciousness. There are thrity of these tiers, or rungs where it is a ladder, and it is meant to represent the thrity years of Jesus Christ’s life that was hidden in the Bible. The important works that were attributed to Saint John were the ‘Scala [klimax] Pardisi” (where the surname comes from) and “Liber ad Pastorem’. ‘Scala’ was published multiple times in multiple different years. The earliest manuscript currently lies in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.



This copy is bound in an manuscript leaf Identified by Eric J. Johnson ,Professor & Curator of Thompson Special Collections at The Ohio State University Libraries as possibly a leaf from Peter Lombard’s Magna glossatura on the Pauline Epistles, specifically on Galatians Ch. 3. Based on the script the leaf dates to the first quarter of the 13th century. (thank. you Eric J. Johnson)