I. GOD IS ONE
The oneness of God is a foundational doctrine in the Holy Bible:
1. The Old Testament (Torah; etc.):
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6: 4; 4: 35, 39; 32: 39);
“There is no God besides Me” (Deuteronomy 32: 39a; Exodus 20: 3; 2 Samuel 7: 22; 1 Kings 8: 60);
“You alone are God” (Psalms 86: 10b; Malachi 2: 10);
“Thus says the Lord, the king of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 44: 6, 8);
“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45: 22, 5-6, 18, 21; 46: 9).
“Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43: 10c-11).
2. The New Testament (Injil; etc.):
“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one’” (Mark 12: 29; Matthew 4: 10);
“There is one God” (Romans 3: 30a; 1 Timothy 2: 5);
“We know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no other God but one” (1 Corinthians 8: 4b);
“God is one” (Galatians 3: 20b; 1 Thessalonians 1: 9; James 2; 19; Ephesians 4: 6; Jude 1: 25).
In fact, the Church taught that God is one since early Christianity.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
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God has put in the human heart the desire to know man’s origin, purpose and destiny. The knowledge of God has been given not to satisfy the inquisitiveness of human reason, but to bring salvation to humanity. This is not a scientific or philosophical knowledge, but a spiritual discernment of the inner man, which comes by the grace of God through faith in Christ. Man needs this knowledge to love and worship the eternal almighty true living God, and to live in eternal fellowship with him.
God is the source and end of all things; uncreated, sufficient, necessary being; infinite, unmeasurable, eternal; all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, creator, redeemer, and consummator of all things; immanent without ceasing to be transcendent, Holy One present in our midst; absolutely free, self-determining, spiritual, responsive; whose operations are incomparably good, holy, righteous, just, benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful, forbearing, kind; hence eternally blessed and rejoicing. God’s holiness is incomparable in beauty.
God is the most positive reality. The reality of God transcends human reason. He is the cause and the source of existence of all things. His divine nature is utterly and purely spiritual. God is a personal being who self-subsists as a simple supreme personal reality. In orthodox theology, a distinction exists between the uncreated inner divine transcendent being (essence/nature) of God, and his uncreated divine energies (operations and acts) which issue from him. St. Basil says: “We know our God form his operations, but are unable to draw near to his essence. For his operations (energies) come down to us, while his essence remains unapproachable.” God is not knowable in his divine essence. We believe in his essence because we experience his energies. We know him in his energies, which are inseparable from his essence. The divine energies signify God himself in his activity and self-manifestation. God’s energies permeate all his creation. The energies, or operations, of God may be compared to the rays of the sun. The rays are the energies of the sun, but not its substance. The divine energies are God, but not his essence. The divine energies are the instruments by which God ordinarily acts outside himself (his essence). They enter the life of man and the universe. The essence/substance of God does not.
God does not create the world from his essence, but by his energies. By each operation (energy mode), God creates or sustains a certain aspect of reality. The divine operations are attributes of God expressed in actions. In these operations/energies, God himself, the originator of all diverse operations, is whole and beyond movement and change. All God’s energies are infinite. They will never cease to proceed from God.
God freely creates everything. There is no external compulsion or necessity upon God to create a world. God brought things into being in order that His goodness may be communicated to creatures. The Creator transcends all his creation. God’s goodness and being are not diminished by the act of creating. God did not lose a part of Himself when He created. This is “just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches” (Tatian).
God preserves creatures directly and/or indirectly through secondary causes. The being of every creature depends on God "In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?" (Job 12: 10). A creature could not subsist for a moment, but fall into nothingness, if it is not kept in being by the operation of the divine energy.
We experience and know God through his varied operations in relation to the visible world, and ourselves. The divine operations aim at leading creation toward deification. It is possible to be in real communion with God by participating in his energies, though the divine nature is transcendent and unparticipated. The Christian believer is progressively deified, and his knowledge of God’s divine energies is increased, by participating in God’s grace, which is one of the uncreated energies of God. The Christian believer believes strongly in the living God because he knows him directly through his energies in his own personal experience, not because of logical proofs and reasonable arguments, which, albeit helpful, may not necessarily be conducive to strong faith.
God does not change in his character as the altogether true and righteous One. God is perfect in every way. He does not need to change to become more perfect: “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3: 6a; Romans 11: 29; 1 Peter 1: 25; James 1: 17). In order to remain true to his immutable character, God’s feelings and response toward a person or a group of people may change for good or ill in response to a change in the person or the group: “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. ‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’ But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezekiel 18: 21-24).
We derive our knowledge of God from two sources:
1. God’s creation. We recognize the invisible God and his eternal love, power and glory by observing his visible creation. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1: 20).
2. Divine revelation, which culminated into the incarnation of the Word (Son) of God in Christ. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1: 18). “…Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11: 27). “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true…” (1 John 5: 20). Divine revelation is provided in the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition. In order to communicate certain truths about God in human language, some passages of the Holy Bible use anthropomorphic language to describe the nature and acts of God, such as God’s eyes, his hands and feet, his relenting, etc. which are not to be taken literally. Christ has taught us that “God is Spirit…” (John 4: 24).
A. The theology of the Holy Trinity
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By definition, the finite creature, man, could never fully comprehend the nature, inner workings and thoughts of his infinite Creator. God created the human mind. Therefore, he is greater than its ability to comprehend him. The much higher form of divine existence is mysterious to the lower form of human existence. If we cannot fully understand our own being, how can we comprehend fully the mystery of our Creator! Man's knowledge is restricted by the mode of his learning, which takes place through finite reality in this life. It is relevant to recall the story of St. Augustine walking on the beach, trying to figure out the mystery of the Holy Trinity. As he watched a little child with a pail trying to put the sea into a hole he had dug in the sand, Augustine said to the child, "you cannot do that." The child (actually an angel) replied, "neither can you fit the mystery of the Holy Trinity into your finite mind." St. Augustine said: “If you understand it, it is not God.” The mystery of God is beyond human reason. The truth is not always simple. Quite often, simple solutions are bogus solutions. A god, whom we claim to understand exhaustively by our human reason, is smaller than man’s mind, and therefore, is no more than an idol invented by man fashioned in our own image. A god who can be reduced to the finite limits of human reason can never be the true living God. This is not the true living God of the Holy Bible and the Christian Church: “Behold God is great, and we do not know Him; nor can the number of His years be discovered” (Job 36: 26; 11: 7-8). God said through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 9).
Human reason should serve divine revelations in humility, and not judge it. Human reason should be subordinated to God’s reason. God is beyond exhaustive understanding by human reason, because he is uncreated infinite, while human reason is created and finite. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is revealed in the Holy Bible. It cannot be proven by human reason. However, it does not go against reason. Humankind needs to accept by faith what God has revealed in the Holy Bible about himself. Divine revelation takes precedence over human rationality.
St. Augustine appropriately thought that God has left triune footprints everywhere around us. Examples on that abound. The sun consists of its matter/body, its glow/light, and its heat. A tree consists of its root, its branches/trunk, and its fruits. At what is known in Physics as the triple point of water, water exists simultaneously as liquid, gas (vapor), and ice. The visible universe consists of space, matter/energy, and time. The human act of perception requires the mind, objects, and perceiving. Love requires a lover, a loved one, and the spirit of love that unites the three in one. Just as the one God is three (Mind/Intellect, Wisdom/Word, and Spirit) in One; man who is created in God’s image (Genesis 1: 26-27) is a conjunction of mind/intellect, intelligence (word/ideas), and spirit in one human being. Intelligence/word is begotten from man’s mind/intellect, and his spirit is projected from it. Likewise, from God the Father, the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds. In all these examples, we see unity, equality, and distinguishability. Although these analogies are suggestive and helpful in understanding the Holy Trinity, none of them is perfect.
Thus, the universe that God had created testifies to, and affirms, the Trinitarian nature of its creator—the complete and perfect expression of his being. While illustrations of the unity of the Holy Trinity pervade the created natural order, one fails to find any natural object of the undifferentiated unity of a unipersonal god.
The Holy Trinity is one of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. God is ONE single undivided divine essence (being) distinguished in three distinct Persons: God the Father, His Word/Wisdom (God the Son), and His Holy Spirit (God the Holy Spirit). Unlike the divine essence, which is ONE uncreated and unique, human nature is one, but it is not unique since it is reproduced every time a human being is born. The one triune God has existed since eternity’s past well before his creation. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. There was never a time when God the Father existed without his Word/Wisdom (Son) or his Holy Spirit (life). The words, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and begotten, are to be viewed as figurative and metaphorical figures of speech used to express divine truths that are in reality ineffable defying description. The reality of God is incapable of description in human language apart from metaphor and simile. God is accommodating his eternal truth to the limitations of human language and mind, just as, for example, a human father must use simple language when trying to explain something difficult to his child.
When ancient pagans thought of triads, they thought of a union of three independent deities—something like 1+1+1=confederation. The triune God is NOT three separate gods united in one (tritheism). In fact, Christian Trinitarian monotheism refutes the concept of tritheism. The Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins with ONE distinguished in THREE, and ends in ONE. This doctrine is similar (but not identical) to 1=1x1x1=1. The one Almighty triune God had created nature, and imposed on it the laws of physics and mathematics. However, He himself is not subject to these laws. He transcends them.
Christianity never taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a goddess. Yet, the Qur’an has stated in al-Ma’idah 5: 73-75, 116; al-Nisa’ 4: 171; and al-Tawbah 9: 31 that Christians worship three gods: God, Mary, and Jesus. Although this was the teaching of an insignificant heretical Christian sect (the Mariamists) that disappeared at the end of the seventh century AD, Muhammad did not distinguish in the Qur’an between mainstream Christianity and the heretics whom the Church condemned.
Because of the single undivided divine essence of the Godhead, the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity have only one single will or energy. This means that no one of the three divine Persons acts independently from the other Persons. There is always mutual concurrence (John 5: 19; 10: 30). In the Holy Trinity, the Father is the only common source--the first uncaused cause and unoriginated origin--of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The three divine Persons are united together in the essence of the Godhead without mediation or distance. Each divine Person abides in the other without confusion. In any of the divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, the other two divine Persons are continuously visible and revealed, as the acts of begetting and procession are interior within the infinite absolute Godhead.
Each divine Person in the Holy Trinity contains all the others. Each possesses, not one third of the Godhead, but the entire Godhead; yet, each is personally distinct. God transcends the laws of finite mathematics. God is Three-in-one, and indivisible, hence simple. God is not limited. The three divine Persons are distinguished, but they are so interior in their unity as Being that knows no dispersal that they can in no way be separated so as to be counted as three entities having a certain discontinuity between them. The self-existent essence of the Godhead is undivided in separate persons. God’s unity is not a unity of separable parts, but of distinguishable parts. Thus, the divine energies of the entire Godhead is revealed to the Christian believer sometimes in the Father, other times in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
The three divine Persons are of the same one undivided essence, and have, by their very nature, the same attributes without distinction pertaining to eternity, will, energy, power, glory and authority. The distinction between them is based on their hypostatic attributes (properties) which are incommunicable: the Father – original cause, unbegottenness, and paternity; the Son – begottenness (from the Father) and sonship; and the Holy Spirit – procession (from the Father). God the Father does not make God the Son and the Holy Spirit any more than a mother makes her child. The order given in the Scriptures of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as first, second, and third Persons in the Holy Trinity does not imply any rank, superiority, or subordination for them within the Trinity, as they are all co-eternal and co-equal. It only suggests the relationship of the Father as the cause of the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is why the Father is greater than the Son (John 14: 28).
Within the single divine operation, each divine Person shows forth what is proper and distinctive to him in the Holy Trinity: the Father is primarily but not exclusively the creator of all (God above us); the Son (the Word/Wisdom of God the Father) is primarily but not exclusively the one by whom all things were made, and through whom redemption is effected (God with us); the Holy Spirit is primarily but not exclusively the life giving and sanctifying principle (God in us and in all creation). The one God is present in all the triune acts and outworkings.
The divine Persons are interior one to the other – and, hence, receive nothing from outside – but they are not confused with one another since they find themselves within a perpetual movement and communion of being and love. This total interpersonal communion intensifies the personal character of God to the highest degree. The perfect unity of the divine Persons in the Holy Trinity is based on perfect love characterized by complete self-denial. The concept of egoism does not exist in this unity. The Holy Spirit, the third divine Person of the Holy Trinity, is the comforter that establishes our communion with God. Through the Holy Spirit, God dwells in the Christian believer. The Holy Spirit progressively sanctifies and deifies the Christian believer in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, the Christian believer participates in the energies of God. We can say that: the Spirit is God within us, the Son is God with us, and the Father is God beyond us.
B. God is NOT unipersonal
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It is important to emphasize the fact that a unipersonal god, who is an eternally lone person confined within his own being with no other to love, cannot experience the fullness of the interpersonal essential godly attributes of the exceedingly rich communion, love and self-giving expressed from all eternity’s past within the relationship of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The interpersonal attributes of the Biblical God (e.g. love, communication, empathy, self-giving, etc.) have been expressed from all eternity within the relationship among the three persons of the Holy Trinity. On the other hand, the unipersonal god is dependent on his creation to express these attributes. He is not self-sufficient. This means that he is a changing contingent being. He is mutable, because his creation did not exist in eternity’s past, and he is dependent on something outside his being in order to grow into his self-realization. Therefore a unipersonal god cannot experience the fullness of existence. Since the almighty God of the universe is perfect in every way, he is self-sufficient, not needing his creation to experience loving communion with it, or to express any of his essential attributes. Creation does not add anything to the being of the triune God. The sovereign God did not create the world to satisfy an essential need he had. The Holy Trinity has no need for another wherein it pours out its exceeding divine love, since the other is already in the Holy Trinity. The eternally self-sufficient triune God is not dependent on any non-divine reality outside himself. He is the absolute immutable transcendent God. Therefore, the true living God of the universe could not be a unipersonal god.
Another imperfection in the unipersonal god is that he lacks the means of close intimate communion with his creation. This communion could not be provided by an angelic messenger sent by God, because this type of messenger is a localized and limited creature that could only communicate externally to one person at a time. In addition, an angelic messenger could not communicate with the human heart in order to effect internal divine illumination. The uncreated Holy Spirit of the living God is unlimited and unlocalized (Psalm 139: 7-12; Jeremiah 23: 24; Acts 17: 28). He communicates the divine light of God into the inmost recesses of the human hearts of many Christian persons at the same time. The triune God desires fellowship with his creation. He is relational. He dwells in his believing human creation by his Holy Spirit, the third person in the Holy Trinity. He is a God great enough to rule the universe, caring enough to live a full human life in Christ Jesus, and intimate enough to live in each Christian believer.
The unipersonal god is not relational. He had existed alone before creation in total isolation and solitude in eternal vacuum. He does not exist in a divine community. A unipersonal god could not create beings who desire community. Contrasting that position, Christianity teaches that the Holy Trinity is a relational eternal divine community of absolute unity. Therefore, humankind, as a reflection of the God of the holy Bible, is relational and desires community. What God does reflects who he is.
IV. THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON THE HOLY TRINITY
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The biblical teaching on the Holy Trinity is rooted in the Old Testament (the Torah; etc.) which points to it. Therefore, the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an elaboration of traditional Jewish theology, not a rejection of it. According to some notable Jewish scholars, views on the Holy Trinity were present among Jews of Jesus time. In fact, the earliest Christian believers were all Jews who incorporated this doctrine into Jewish theological background. Later on, after Jews and Christians had parted ways, Jews insisted on a monadic God, as a reaction to Christian theology.
Christ, the promised Messiah, has spoken through the prophet Isaiah about seven hundred years before his incarnation and birth form the virgin Mary:
“Come near to Me, hear this: I (the Son) have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there, and now the Lord God (the Father) and His Spirit have sent Me” (Isaiah 48: 16; 42: 1; Genesis 3: 22); “The Spirit of the Lord God (the Father) is upon Me (the Son), because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61: 1; 63: 7-10).
In both verses, the Lord God is God the Father, and the Spirit of the Lord God is the Holy Spirit. God appeared to Abraham in the form of three men. They spoke to him as One, and Abraham worshiped the One (Genesis 18: 1-5, 9-19). Abraham lived about 2000 years before Christ. The angels glorify God in the heavenly realm by singing the hymn of the Three-Holies: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6: 3b; Revelation 4: 8).
The New Testament (Injil; etc.) amplifies, clarifies, and emphasizes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It affirms both the deity and the unity of the Father, his Word (the Son), and his Holy Spirit, for there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. “And the angel answered and said to her (Mary), ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest (the Father) will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35). “And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him (Jesus), and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I (the Father) am well pleased” (Luke 3:22; Matthew 3: 16-17; 17: 2-5; Acts 20: 28). The baptismal formula affirms the divinity, the distinctness, the equality, and the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 19; 16: 15-17). The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinguished and all present at Jesus baptism (Matthew 3: 16-17). St. Paul’s threefold apostolic benediction joins together equally and distinctly the Christ (the Son), God (the Father), and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13: 14). The Holy Spirit of God the Father declares the Son: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (the Father), and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1 John 4: 2-3). The Holy Spirit is a divine Person in the Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and is sent by both the Father and the Son, as Christ said: “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15: 26; Colossians 1:13-16; Hebrews 1: 1-4).
V. THE UNITY OF THE TRIUNE GOD
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The oneness of God is not compromised by seeing complexity within that oneness. The unity of the triune God is perfected due to the following:
1. The three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity: the Father, his Word (the Son), and his Holy Spirit are of the same one undivided divine essence. They are of the same one undivided divine substance and nature.
2. Although there are three divine Persons in the Godhead, there is only one will and one common energy in the Godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have only one and the same divine will, not three; and only one divine energy, not three. Therefore, there can never be conflict of wills within the Godhead. None of the three divine Persons ever acts separately from the other two. They are one God, not three gods. Christ said: “I and My Father are one” (John 10: 30).
3. There is only one source in the Godhead: God the Father. He is the only unoriginated origin in the Godhead. God the Son is begotten by God the Father. God the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father.
4. Each of the three divine Persons of the triune God dwells and exists in the other two, without confusion or separation: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14: 9-10).
5. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8b). Ontologically, God is a being of absolute divine love. Love is the very mode of God’s triune being as a unity. The unceasing mutual perfect infinite divine love characterizes the personal divine relations of the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The human desire for love reflects this divine reality.