Many times, non-Christians ask: how can Three be One?
The Belief in One God!
The Holy Bible, in both Testaments, assures us in many occasions of the Oneness of God. When our Lord Jesus Christ was asked: “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered, “‘The first of all the commandments is ‘Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One,’” (Mk12:29).
While we affirm the Oneness of God, we reject polytheism (i.e. multiplicity of divine beings) and the worship of idols. We refuse the teachings of Atheism or even the assumption of Agnosticism.
The Unique Oneness of God
God is unique in everything. Even though the Holy Bible calls Him the “One God.” however, this does not mean that He is subject to mathematical laws, because He is Infinite. God is One but surely He is greater than the number one. He is greater than all things in heaven or on earth.
In other words, we have to redefine and comprehend the use of the term “One” not to mean a number among many. It defines a unique, single, unutterable identity of God. God cannot be made subject to our numbering system; instead He is above all human systems.
St. Clement of Alexandria said, “God is the One surpassing all oneness, and above unity itself.”
The Oneness of God is not a single selfish isolated entity. It is the Oneness of substantial unity that is remote from isolation.
How Can Three be One?
Belief in the Son and the Holy Spirit is not indicative of polytheism, nor is it an attempt at extending the Father’s substance. The Son said, “I am in the Father and the Father in Me,” (Jn 14:10). “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9). Each Person (Hypostasis) in the Holy Trinity fills the other two and is contained in them, but is still somehow distinguishable from the Others. Just as we can differentiate the human mind from the human soul although it is not an addition to it nor can it be separated from it.
Unity here does not imply adding. Our faith in the Holy Trinity does not contradict the Oneness of God. We do not believe in three divine essences (ousia) but in a single Divine essence. To understand this Divine mystery, we can say that the Divine essence has been in existence since eternity. This eternal existence is a rational existence as well; in other words, it has Mind, Wisdom or Logos (Word) born of His own existence. So the Mind of the Divine nature does not have an essence other than that of the Father but it is born out of the same essence of God. So when we call the Divine Being “Father” and the Logos “Son.” we are affirming that the Son is the Word of God. This does not mean that the Father and the Son are two essences or we then would believe in two gods.
Athenagoras said that the Eternal God has the Logikos (Mind) eternally existed in Him.
The Divine Being (the Father) is eternally alive. His life proceeds from Him and is not external to His being. Existence is distinguishable from life but neither is separate from the other and neither has a separate Divine essence because life belongs to this Divine Existence Himself.
The Holy Trinity and their Types
Belief in the Holy Trinity is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. It is a hidden, incomprehensible mystery that touches our lives here on earth as well as in the heavens. The Church Fathers put forth much effort in trying to explain this mystery. Human language falls short of expressing the Divine, and the entirety of nature lacks a true example of the existence of a single essence in three distinguishable persons.
To perceive this mystery we may say that God is the only Being whose Self-existence is a necessity. This Self-existence is what we call the Divine essence, which has two groups of attributes and precepts. Certain attributes are personal and concern God’s own Being. Other attributes concern His relationship to the creation. The three personal attributes are: Being, Reason (Logos) and Life. These attributes are not an addition to God’s essence as if they were originated from outside of Him; instead they are from eternity inseparable from His divine essence Itself. There was no time in which the Divine Substance existed without Reason or without Life. The Father is the Cause, the Son is the same essence (being the Logos or the Word) attribute and the Holy Spirit is Life.
It is worthy to note that the three Persons (hypostasis) are not separated, but have the same essence and their work is inseparable.
Examples from Creation
First of all, any of the following examples can at best partially explain the mystery and help shed some light unto it. It has to be understood that any of these examples explain only one aspect or another of the mystery.
Secondly, to understand this mystery we need Divine grace that gives us communion with God i.e. communion with the Father in His Son through the Holy Spirit.
The creation of man is in the image of God (Gn 1:27; 5:2) whose soul exists, rational and alive. While being a single human, its existence is different from its reason and its life. The three are inseparable from each other.
God promised to protect His church saying: “For I, says the Lord, will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zec 2:5). Fire has three self attributes similar to the Persons of the Trinity: flame, light born out of the flame and heat proceeding from the flame. But we have to notice that these are not persons in themselves since none of them fills the other two. Through light, we can understand light and through heat, we can understand heat.
The sun is a planet that emanates rays of light and heat while being a single sun. We call the planet itself “the sun” and we call its rays of light “the sun” and similarly we call its heat “the sun.”
God is likened to an apple. It was said: “Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my Beloved among the sons” (Songs 2:3). The apple has the substance that we eat, its taste and the aroma we smell. The apple can be recognized through its taste or its smell.
Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty