Mother Church, in her Divine Wisdom, tells us that there are Three Persons in the One True God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This truth is often called the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity
The idea that One God could be three Persons is not easy for a child, who lacks abstract reasoning abilities, to understand. Realizing this fact, religious instructors often dismiss young students' questions by saying "The Trinity is a mystery". Unfortunately, this gives the children the impression that one can know nothing about the inner nature of the Triune Godhead, and that the doctrine of the Trinity can neither be explained nor understood at all.
This is not so. A "mystery" is not something we can know nothing about; it is something which we know but can never entirely comprehend. Thus everything having to do with our Infinite Creator is a mystery, for the depths of God are ultimately incomprehensible. Yet we do know something about God, for God has revealed Himself to us. And one thing God has revealed is that there are Three Persons in the Godhead.
This is not a contradiction. If Mother Church said "God is Three Persons - but really only one Person," or "There are three Gods - but really only One God," those would be contradictory statements. But she says that there are Three Persons in one God, meaning that the Three Persons share one and the same Divine Nature.
The words person and nature describe two different things. Person denotes who someone is, while nature denotes what one is. So if we ask "Who is God?", the answer is "God is Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit". If we ask "What is God?" the answer is "God is One - a Single Divine Nature". If we put these two truths together we find that God is Three Divine Persons who share one Divine Nature.
Here's an example to help you understand: Let's say there are three men - John, James and Joe. Each one thinks, loves and decides for himself, yet they are joined in such a way that they all share the same soul. John can think with James' intellect, because it is also his own; James can love with Joe's will, because it is his will as well.
Now, if we ask John; "Are you a person?" he'd say "Yes, I am a person." James and Joe would say the same thing, for each is a distinct person from the other. Yet we can't say there are three distinct human beings, since they share one human nature among them. Likewise with God. There are not three Gods, there is only one God; one Divine Nature possessed equally and totally by three distinct Persons.
Origin of the Doctrine
Some have tried to claim that Christians copied the Trinity from similar pagan concepts. This is not the case, however. The accompanying article, Is the Trinity a Pagan Concept? addresses this charge in-depth.
So where does this doctrine really come from? The Bible! Though the word trinity never appears in Scripture, the concept is based on the biblical teachings regarding God.
Sacred Scripture tells us that there is only one God (Dt 4:35; Isaiah 45:5; 46:9). Yet it also refers to three distinct persons as "God": God the Father (Gal 1:1), Jesus Christ His Son (Jn 1:1; 20:28) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3,4). Since God cannot lie or contradict Himself, His Word cannot contain discrepancies. This seeming contradiction is easily reconciled by the belief that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are Three distinct Persons in One God. This is the truth which God was conveying through Scripture, a truth which Christians later labled "The Trinity" (literally "tri-unity").
Christians also believe that God is Triune based on the biblical revelation that God is Love (I John 4:8, 16). Love cannot exist all alone; it is by very nature directed toward another. We love someone or something, who is the object of our love. In fact, in order for love to exist there must be three elements:
Some may object "What if one loves oneself? Then there are only two elements". Actually, there are three elements here as well, for the "beloved" in this case is actually ones self-concept! We each have a particular concept of ourselves (which may or may not be accurate!). If we "love ourselves" we are really loving our self-concept, and if we don't "love ourselves" it's really that self-concept which we find unlovable for some reason. So in love of self, the "lover" is the self, the beloved is the self-concept, and the self-love is the third principle.
This is also an excellent image of the Holy Trinity, for it clearly reveals the origin of the Beloved Son. The Second Person of the Trinity is the Personal Expression of the Father's eternal Self-Concept. Thus the Beloved Son is also called the "Word" (John 1:1), the Expression or Utterance of God. The Father loves the Son because the latter is a perfect Image of Himself (Col 1:16; He 1:3), a perfect Self-Concept (after all, how could the Omniscient One have an imperfect Self-Concept?). And the Holy Spirit arises from the Father's love for His Son/Word.
Thus the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do parallel the Self/Concept/Love-of-Self "trinity" mentioned above. (The main difference being that the Former are three distinct Persons, while the latter are not).
The Persons of the Trinity are not exactly like human persons. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three separate "consciousnesses" in God, each with His own intellect and will. Rather they are three distinct subjects of consciousness who share one Intellect and one Will. The distinction between the Three Persons is in their relation toward one another: the Father is the "Begettor", the Son is the "Begotten One", and the Holy Spirit is the "Spiration". This is how the Three are differentiated from one another.
Though each Person is distinct from the other two, they do not act separately. What the Father does, the Son and Holy Spirit do as well. The Godhead acts as one. We sometimes appropriate an activity to one Person or another, such as when we call the Father "Creator", the Son "Redeemer" and the Spirit "Sanctifier". Yet these designations are not absolute; the entire Trinity actually participates in creation, so all Three Persons are "Creator". The entire Trinity makes us holy, so all Three are "Sanctifier" as well, etc..
So God is Three Persons; So What?
Some people seem to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is irrelevant to our spirituality and Christian walk. Nothing could be more untrue! Christians are called to have a relationship with God; surely it is important for us to know the One Whom we worship and love.
The truth that God is "Three-in-One" also shows us that there is a "Community of Love" within the Godhead. God is not a solitary Monarch, reigning all alone in Eternity. Rather, God is a "Family", so to speak; a Father and a Son bound together by an Eternal Love which is a Third Person, the Holy Spirit. This is a very beautiful thought.
Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity allows us to understand how God gives us a share in His own Divine Life. The Father sends the Son, Who becomes flesh, taking on Himself our human nature. The Son then unites us to His Sacred Humanity, making us one Body with Him. By this union we also partake of His divine nature (see II Peter 1:4), and so become sons and daughters of God in the Eternal Son. Jesus then loves the Father in us, and the Father loves Jesus in us, and so their mutual Love, the Holy Spirit, becomes present in our souls. The Spirit causes us to proclaim that Jesus is Lord (I Corinthians 12:3) and cries within us "Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).
Yes, it is the Holy Trinity who divinizes us, making us created partakers in God's own life and adopted members of the Heavenly Family. By the act of Creation and Redemption, the Godhead has "extended" (so to speak), the Eternal Family into the created realm; not by making us God by nature, but by the Son becoming human and giving us a share in the divine nature.
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