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The Three Divine Persons

In Ortho­dox ter­mi­nol­o­gy the Father, the Son and the Holy Spir­it are called three divine per­sons. Per­son is defined here sim­ply as the sub­ject of exis­tence and lifehyposta­sis in the tra­di­tion­al church language.

As the being, essence or nature of a real­i­ty answers the ques­tion “what?”, the per­son of a real­i­ty answers the ques­tion “which one?” or “who?” Thus, when we ask “What is God?” we answer that God is the divine, per­fect, eter­nal, absolute… and when we ask “Who is God?” we answer that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The saints of the Church have explained this tri-uni­ty of God by using such an exam­ple from world­ly exis­tence. We see three men. “What are they?” we ask. “They are human beings,” we answer. Each is man, pos­sess­ing the same human­i­ty and the same human nature defined in a cer­tain way: cre­at­ed, tem­po­ral, phys­i­cal, ratio­nal, etc. In what they are, the three men are one. But in who they are, they are three, each absolute­ly unique and dis­tinct from the oth­ers. Each man in his own unique way is dis­tinct­ly a man. One man is not the oth­er, though each man is still human with one and the same human nature and form.

Turn­ing to God, we may ask in the same way: “What is it?” In reply we say that it is God defined as absolute per­fec­tion: “inef­fa­ble, incon­ceiv­able, invis­i­ble, incom­pre­hen­si­ble, ever-exist­ing, and eter­nal­ly the same.” We then ask, “Who is it?”, and we answer that it is the Trin­i­ty : Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it. In who God is, there are three per­sons who are each absolute­ly unique and dis­tinct. Each is not the oth­er, though each is still divine with the same divine nature and form. There­fore, while being one in what they are; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spir­it are Three in who they are. And because of what and who they are—namely, uncre­at­ed, divine persons—they are undi­vid­ed and per­fect­ly unit­ed in their time­less, space­less, size­less, shape­less super-essen­tial exis­tence, as well as in their one divine life, knowl­edge, love, good­ness, pow­er, will, action, etc.

Thus, accord­ing to the Ortho­dox Tra­di­tion, it is the mys­tery of God that there are Three who are divine; Three who live and act by one and the same divine per­fec­tion, yet each accord­ing to his own per­son­al dis­tinct­ness and unique­ness. Thus it is said that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spir­it are each divine with the same divin­i­ty, yet each in his own divine way. And as the uncre­at­ed divin­i­ty has three divine sub­jects, so each divine action has three divine actors; there are three divine aspects to every action of God, yet the action remains one and the same.

We dis­cov­er, there­fore, one God the Father Almighty with His one unique Son (Image and Word) and His one Holy Spir­it. There is one liv­ing God with His one per­fect divine Life, who is per­son­al­ly the Son, with His one Spir­it of Life. There is one True God with His one divine Truth, who is per­son­al­ly the Son, with His one Spir­it of Truth. There is one wise and lov­ing God with His one Wis­dom and Love, who is per­son­al­ly the Son, with His one Spir­it of Wis­dom and Love. The exam­ples could go on indef­i­nite­ly: the one divine Father per­son­i­fy­ing every aspect of His divin­i­ty in His one divine Son, who is per­son­al­ly acti­vat­ed by His one divine Spir­it. We will see the liv­ing impli­ca­tions of the Trin­i­ty as we sur­vey the activ­i­ty of God in his actions toward man and the world.