Translation – The Book of Councils – Part 1

This is a translation of the French text of the Book of the Councils by Severus, bishop of Aschmounain, of the 10th century. It is found in Patrologia Orientalis Volume 12. I am translating from the French edition of the Arabic text produced by P. Chebli, a Maronite priest, in 1905.

Part I

Know, blessed brother (God keep you and make you prosper!), That God (his name be exalted!) did not create the universe because he needed it: he did it out of pure condescension, to manifest his power and make known his sovereignty. Everything he created, from the beginning to this day, remains as it was made, without disappearance, without transformation and without change.

Man alone saddens the spectacle of creation: God (his power be magnified!) had created him to persist in existence, and preferred him to all his works; for whereas, for all other beings, he had contented himself with saying: be! he wanted to shape man with his own hands using four different elements; and he breathed life into his face. Out of this came out a perfect man, living, speaking, endowed with a reasonable soul: God called him Adam and established him in paradise, subjecting to him all his other earthly creatures, and delivering to his use all the goods of paradise.

He excepted one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which he forbade him to eat, adding the threat to the warning; for, he said to her, “the day you eat of it, you will die”. Then God sent Adam, in paradise, into a deep sleep, during which he took, from his right side, a rib which he covered with flesh and of which he made a woman: Adam called her Eve. God covered them with light and glory, and exalted them above all creation.

Now God, before creating Adam, had given existence to hosts of angels, to the heavenly hierarchies. Among these angels, there was one, superior to the others; and God had made him head of all: his name was Saṭanayel, and he had under his command thousands of angels, and hundreds of thousands. A sense of pride and vanity overwhelmed him; he conceived an idea of ​​greatness and he wanted to be like his Creator. God was angry with him, removed him from his rank, took away his pre-eminence, deprived him of his dignity, and exiled him to this earth, proscribing with him those of the angels who had obeyed him and who had given their assent to his purpose. He became a formidable demon, and took the name of Iblis; and the angels condemned with him were called demons.

Some have said that the cause of Satan’s fall was his refusal to worship Adam: but this is unfounded, for Isaiah said in his prophecy: “The morning star (Lucifer) did not fall except for having said to himself: I will establish my throne above the stars of the sky; I will sit on the clouds, and I will be like the Most High! ” His fall therefore took place before the creation of Adam. Then when he saw the honour that God had done to Adam, he became jealous of it, and resolved in his perversity to tear it away. He hid himself, for this purpose, in the body of the serpent; he went to find Eve, and said to her: “Why did God forbid you to eat the fruits of paradise?” She replied, “He only forbade us the fruits of this tree.” “But why,” Satan insisted, “did he withhold them from you?” “I do not know,” said Eve to him. “He withheld them to you, explained Satan, to keep you from becoming gods like him, knowing good and evil.” Eve took pleasure in the sight of the tree, and felt the desire to taste it: she held out her hand, plucked a fruit and ate; then she gave it to Adam to eat. Immediately they were stripped of the light, and lost their glory and their honour; their shameful parts appeared, and they saw their nakedness. They then made veils of fig leaves; and God gave them two garments of skins.

Then he brought them out of paradise, because of their disobedience, and he closed the entrance. Adam and Eve settled on a mountain below paradise: there they knew each other and begot children. Several generations passed, who worshiped God according to reason, without doctrine and without law. And Satan and his friends were striving to deceive men, and to turn them away from the obedience of God; so that by dint of committing the forbidden things, and of indulging in sin and crimes, all suffered under the yoke of Satan, and there remained only eight people on earth to know God and to believe in him: Noah, his wife, his three children and their wives.

So God warned Noah that he was going to send the flood to the earth to destroy all creation because of the sins of men; and he ordered him to build a ship, where he would take refuge with his wife, his children, and their wives, and a number of wild beasts, animals, and birds. In the 2242nd year after Adam, God sent the flood to the earth, and destroyed all creatures there, except those that were in the ark. Then God renewed the creation through Noah and his children, and all that was with them in the vessel. They procreated children and multiplied in the world; and they also worshiped God without law or doctrine.

Then, at this time, seventy-two men jointly formed the project to build a high tower: they said they feared a new flood, which would destroy them and their offspring. God gave different languages ​​to them, which they began to speak, so that each one spoke in an dialect, without being understood by his neighbour: they then dispersed throughout the world; and with them began the diversity of languages. However, from the flood until the construction of the tower, 558 years passed, which corresponds to the 2800th year of the creation of the world. Satan, during this time, neglected nothing to draw men away. After that, that is, after 640 years, the Lord showed himself to Abraham. And when the crimes of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah increased, God sent fire and brimstone upon these cities, and destroyed all that was there and all that was in the surrounding places. , for God had promised his servant Noah that he would no longer submerge the earth under a new flood.

Men were always multiplying; and the knowledge of God was renewed on the earth by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . God gave the latter the name of Israel. In his day there was famine; and his son Joseph reigned over the old Misr, known under the name of Memphis, in the time of Pharaoh, after having had with his brothers, the children of Jacob, the adventures related in Scripture and that everyone knows. Jacob went to Egypt during Joseph’s lifetime, with his sons, his grandsons, and all his retinue, of whom there were seventy-five. They multiplied there greatly, under the divine blessing, and reached the number of several thousand; to the point that the Pharaohs were afraid of them, and they enslaved them, one king after another, condemning them to make bricks, to build their palaces and to a thousand other chores, to give them no respite and so as not to allow them to pull themselves together.

In addition, the midwives were ordered to kill any male child born to the Hebrews, that is, to the sons of Israel, so as not to let them increase beyond measure. Many other annoyances, many other pains and other insults were inflicted on them. In the end, they cried out to the Lord; they wept and asked for help; the Lord heard their weeping and their cries; he had pity on them and had mercy on them. He sent his servant the prophet Moses to bring them out of the land of Egypt, out of that ruthless kingdom, and the bitterness of bondage. And this Moses was the first prophet sent by God to the world with legislation and precepts, and with the rite of offerings; and he promulgated a doctrine and a religion. (Since therefore the appearance of God to Abraham, 440 years have passed, which makes 3880 years).

And God brought out the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an overwhelming arm: they numbered six hundred thousand souls. Pharaoh had opposed their departure; but God worked, through his servant Moses, extraordinary signs and amazing wonders. Then he submerged Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. The Israelites took possession of a great number of kingdoms, of which they defeated the unfaithful princes; and under the command of Joshua, son of Nun, successor of Moses, they occupied the land which God had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham; they divided it among themselves, and enjoyed the bounties of their Lord.

However, Satan did not cease his hostility with humans: he seduced all he could among them, winning them to the worship of idols, and to the transgression of the Law. Then the prophets came to remind them of the precepts of the Lord, and the keeping of his Law; and whenever they disobeyed, he delivered them to the unfaithful kings, who took them captive, looted their property and ransacked their homes. But as soon as they became aware of their crimes and their disorders and returned to God through penance and repentance, he allowed himself to be touched, brought them back to their homes and subjected their enemies to them. He did so more than once during a period of 1,620 years, which completes the 5,500 years since the creation of the world.

When after this their sins multiplied beyond measure and their crimes and transgressions increased, God (whose name be praised) saw that the first Adam, whom he had fashioned with his hand, had perished and with him all the ancient generations of men, of the prophets and of the righteous, and that the innocent and the wicked were plunged into hell for their sins and their ungodliness; he also saw that the children of Israel, who lived on the earth, did not observe the Law and the precepts which Moses had given them; finally he saw that the other nations were devoting themselves with fury to the worship of idols and to the service of Satan: then he sent his only begotten Son, light coming from his light, substance coming from his substance, the image and the figure of his eternity , generated by him without sharing and without distinction in essence.

He sent him into the world to save, by his mercy and by his works, his servant and his creation. The Son descended into the womb of a virgin woman of the tribe of David, of the race of Abraham; and he came out of her incarnate in human form in order to manifest himself to the world: for when the prophet Moses expressed to the Lord the desire to see him, he answered him: No mortal can see me and remain alive; but to express to you the good dispositions with which I am animated towards you, I will show you as much as you can support. And he caused a lightning-like light to shine in his eyes; and Moses fell unconscious with his face to the ground like a lifeless man. But at the voice of the Lord speaking to him, he recovered his senses, and life returned to his body. He then went to the Israelites, who could not fix their gaze on his face because of the light flooding him; and he had to cover himself with a veil when he went among them, leaving him when he went to the mountain. If therefore no human gaze could be fixed on the face of the prophet Moses because of the light which he himself could not contemplate, but which had simply spread over him and illuminated him with glory to the point of being obliged to cover himself with a veil: who ever, with much more reason, could have supported the divine light, if it had pleased him to appear in the world, and to remain alive!

Therefore God willed, in his supreme wisdom and in his omnipotence, to unite himself with this body, and to appear in this world in the form and the figure of men, that they might be able to contemplate him, and hear him, and thereby obtain the salvation granted to Adam and his seed.

Her admirable birth took place, by an ineffable mystery, on Tuesday, the 29th day of Khiakh, the year 5501 of the world, of Mary the all pure Virgin, in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of Herod, governor of Jerusalem, and under the reign of Augustus-Caesar, emperor of the Romans. Two years after his birth the coming of the Magi loaded with gifts took place; for they had seen his star shine at his birth, and that star was their guide as far as Bethlehem. Then he fled to Egypt, when Herod sought for him.

And two years later, Herod being dead, he returned and lived in a city called Nazareth: therefore his name was the Nazarene, he and all those who believed in him. In the thirtieth year of his earthly life, he was baptized by John in the Jordan River on Tuesday, the eleventh day of the month of Tubah, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, emperor of the Romans. (In response to those who ask us how we know his birth and baptism took place on Tuesday, we have discussed this twofold question at the end of this book.)

After his baptism, he began to work divine works and sublime wonders, changing water into wine, restoring health to the infirm, healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes with a little bread, making the winds and waves obey him, walking on water, as on dry land, revealing the secret thoughts and inner movements of men’s hearts, raising the dead, purifying lepers, restoring movement to the crippled and paralytics, opening their eyes to the blind, giving voice to the dumb, and doing other miracles in countless numbers. All this was accomplished at a simple command from him, without prayer and without supplication, as befits the divinity, and not as the prophets did.

The Jews, seeing all these wonders, envied him: If we let this man continue these works, they said, all the people will believe in him and follow him; and then the Romans will come and take our temple, and take away our children as slaves. They therefore plotted against his life under the impulse of an unjust jealousy. Their leader at the time, Caiaphas, pronounced this prophecy: “It is better that one man die for the people, than to expose the whole nation to certain loss.” And they added: this man works his miracles on the Sabbath; therefore he fails to keep the Sabbath, and breaks the law. Even more, he goes so far as to call himself the son of God: he therefore deserves death!

Satan, the enemy of men, strove to destroy them and persuade them to cause his death. He fills them with envy, anger and fury; and he put in their minds that by this they were defending the Law, without departing from the path of righteousness. So they agreed, great and small, to crucify him and put him to death. They imagined, the foolish ones, that he was simply a man like them, and that by quenching their madness and by killing him, they would have destroyed him and erased his memory on earth, just as happens to men who suffer such a fate. He left them to do so, in view of the fulfilment of the plan which he had drawn up for the salvation of Adam and his posterity, and for the fulfilment of the predictions of the Prophets who had spoken of him.

He therefore suffered with patience all their undertakings, showing in all things his wisdom and forbearance; and finally he was crucified: it was the sixth hour of the day of Friday, at the place called Golgotha. Then they had him buried, content to have come to their conclusion. But he was resurrected in the glory of his divinity on the third day, which was Sunday, the twenty-ninth day of the month of Baramhat, in the thirty-fourth year of his human age and the 5534th of the world.

Some Fathers said that the resurrection took place in the month of Baramouda: God knows that which it is. He opened the door of paradise, closed since sin and the casting out of Adam: he brought him back there in the company of the prophets and the righteous; he made the way to salvation easier for men; and he opened to them the door of forgiveness through penance.

He remained still on this earth for forty days after his resurrection, manifesting himself to his own: and then, having finished his calling and achieved his goal, which is the salvation of his servants, he ascended to heaven in the midst of the praises of the Angelic choirs: Glory be returned to him! Amen.

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