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Is the belief in the Holy Trinity POLYTHEISM?

Is the belief in the Holy Trinity POLYTHEISM?

September 6, 2023

Are Christians polytheistic? Often the Christian faith about the Holy Trinity is misunderstood as polytheism—the belief in many gods. But is that really the case? No, not really… but how can we believe in three Divine Persons and yet claim monotheism? 

 

Christians believe in the Holy Trinity which consists of three Divine Persons who are One: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We believe this not because we somehow discovered the Trinity but because God revealed Himself to humanity in this way. These three Persons are three distinct Persons. Each One has a Mind, a Conscience, is able to take decisions and take action. For instance, the Father Himself can speak to me directly. He doesn’t need to speak through the Son for example. Since we are reconciled with the Father through the salvific work of Christ, we have access to the Father and can therefore speak to Him directly and say “Our Father who art in Heaven” which is clearly a prayer directed to the Father only. Similarly, we sometimes speak directly to the Son. I can thank Him for certain actions that are particular to Him—like the cross—for instance. The Father was not crucified for Me nor was the Holy Spirit. It would actually be blasphemous to say so. An example of a prayer directed to the Son is the Jesus prayer. Another example is the liturgy according to St. Gregory the Theologian which we pray in the Coptic Tradition. Likewise, I can pray specifically to the Holy Spirit, who is a Person—not just a mere spirit–and ask Him to convict me of sin or to comfort me in my pain. I can call Him Savior as we do in the 3rd hour litanies in the Coptic prayer book of the hours. So the Persons of the Trinity are three distinct Persons as St. Severus of Antioch explains. He says this: “Therefore while the Hypostases or the Persons are recognized by their peculiar characteristics and the Father is not converted into the Son or into the Holy Spirit, nor does the Son pass into the Holy Spirit or the Father, nor yet is the Holy Spirit transformed as to become the Father or the Son, the three are one, in that they are from the same essence of the Godhead; for the Father is God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God…while the Hypostases remain unconfused…” Here, St. Severus confirms the understanding that each Person of the Trinity is distinct from the Others. Each of the three Persons has His peculiar characteristics and all three of them remain unconfused from each other. Yet, the three are One. He then goes on to explain what is meant that they are One. Exactly as St. Cyril of Alexandria explained it, St. Severus says that the Three are One because they are of the same divine essence—meaning they share the same divine nature and therefore each Person shares the same divine attributes or characteristics of this nature. For instance: the Father is Almighty. Almighty is an attribute of the divine nature. The Son is also Almighty and so is the Holy Spirit. Another example: the Father is All-Knowing and so is the Son and so is the Holy Spirit. So when we say the Persons of the Trinity are One, we are claiming that the three Persons have One Divine Essence; not that they are One Person 

 

But doesn’t that mean that Christians are polytheistic? No, it doesn’t. Again, let us use St. Severus of Antioch to further clarify the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Talking about the Son and the Holy Spirit, he says the following: “And these [Son & Holy Spirit] are from the Father as from a root and we refer their Godhead eternally and timelessly to one first Cause, to the Father, and so the principle of a single first cause is preserved. For we do not hold several first causes… and we do not confine the Godhead in one Person [we also] do not divide into a trinity of first causes, and shun the polytheism of the pagans.” St. Severus clearly explains, that although we believe in three Divine Persons who are eternal and timeless, two of them, namely the Son and the Holy Spirit, have their first cause in the Father. The Father alone is the first cause. The Son is begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It cannot be the other way around. Arius claimed that the Son was not divine but he was created with a different nature than the Father and so he was in the wrong. The Son is Divine because the Father gave to His Only-Begotten Son the Divine Essence. However, between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father is the First Cause; and therefore, Christians are not polytheistic. For that same reason, St. Paul, in first Corinthians, speaks about the Son delivering the kingdom, or the creation, back to God the Father. He says the following: “Then comes the end, when He [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power…” The creation is delivered back to the Father because the Father is the First Cause. He is all in all. Everything starts with Him and culminates in Him. 

 

“Then comes the end, when He [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power…” 

1Cor 15:24 

Letter to Eupraxius the Chamberlain 

Died in 538 

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