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Reviewed by:
  • Giovanni Climaco: La Scala del Paradiso
  • John Chryssavgis
Giovanni Climaco: La Scala del Paradiso. Edited and translated by Rosa Maria Parrinello. (Rome: Paoline Publications. 2007. Pp. 638. €48,00.)

Less than three decades ago, one would not have expected the ascetical writings of John Climacus, the seventh-century hermit and abbot of the Sinaite desert, to comprise sufficient and appropriate grounds for academic study and translation. Yet, only over the past three years, there have been two distinct and distinguished editions in the Italian language alone—both of them from the region of Turin. In 2005, the monastic community of Bose published an introduction and fresh translation of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which over the centuries has proved influential within both religious and lay circles. This year, Rosa Maria Parrinello, who lectures in Byzantine literature and specializes in monastic history—and particularly in issues related to spiritual direction in Palestinian and Sinaite monasticism—at the University of Turin, has produced another significant translation of this early classic text. The book is part of a series on Christian Readings of the First Millennium, which has introduced seminal texts from both East and West. With the exception of Athanasius' Life of Anthony (volume 20), this translation of John Climacus (volume 41) is the first monastic treatise of early Egypt, Palestine, and Sinai.

The unique contribution of this book—beyond the fine translation and research—lies in the substantial introduction (pp. 9–185) as well as in the comprehensive indices (of names and themes as well as of scriptural and patristic references). The translation includes the introductory letters or prologue to The Ladder (pp. 195–98) and the concluding letter or Treatise to the Shepherd (pp. 525–49). The text is embellished with rich notes referring to patristic sources, while the appendices of terms (pp. 553–84) and themes (pp. 585–90) offer an analytical study of fundamental and critical aspects of this at once traditional and original masterpiece of monastic literature. The introduction includes chapters with biographical material (without offering any new information or insights into the dates of the Sinaite author), together with a detailed exploration into textual editions and monastic life on Mt. Sinai. The first appendix examines such monastic terms as: accidia, eros, philautia, amerimnia, anachoresis, body and flesh, heart, deification, discernment, tears and mourning, silence and stillness, toil, apatheia, gluttony, insensitivity, parrhesia, martyrdom, repentance, prayer and the Jesus Prayer, fear, remembrance of death, remembrance of God, renunciation, rest, pride, xeniteia, theology, humility, vainglory, and nepsis. The second appendix contains helpful discussions of the spiritual "alphabet" cited in monastic texts, such as the Ladder of John Climacus and the Letters of Barsanuphius and John; it also describes the nuances of such terms as "cenobium" and "community" as well as the ascetic regulations regarding food and drink.

In many ways, the work produced by Parrinello constitutes the culmination of numerous scholars, editors, and translators that have preceded (from the translation in two volumes by Trevisan, published in Turin in 1941), while at the same time providing a synthesis of the secondary sources that have [End Page 133] appeared in recent years. It is an important complement and fitting completion of invaluable work hitherto on The Ladder.

John Chryssavgis
Brunswick, Maine


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