Insufficiency of any number other than «Three»
Two is the number which separates, three the number which transcends all separation: the one and the many find themselves gathered and circumscribed in the Trinity. The one would be without honour, the other would be contrary to order.
The deity is neither one nor many;
its perfection goes beyond the multiplicity of which duality is the root, and expresses itself in the Trinity. The Godhead does not dwell within bounds, nor does it spread itself indefinitely.
The threefold number is not, as we commonly understand it, a quantity. The threefold number relates to the indivisibly united divine hypostases, the ‘sum’ of which is always the unity, 3=1.
St. Gregory speaks to the philosophers as a philosopher, that he may win the philosopher to the contemplation of the Trinity. ‘The monad is set in motion in virtue of its richness;
the dyad is surpassed (for the deity is above matter and form);
the triad contains itself in perfection, for it is the first which surpasses the composition of the dyad. Thus, the Godhead does not dwell within bounds, nor does it spread itself indefinitely. The one would be without honour, the other would be contrary to order. The one would be wholly Judaic, the other Hellenistic and polytheistic.’60
One gains a glimpse of the mystery of the number, three;
the deity is neither one nor many;
its perfection goes beyond the multiplicity of which duality is the root (we recall the interminable dyads of the gnostics, and the dualism of the Platonists), and expresses itself in the Trinity. The term ‘expresses itself’ is improper, for the divinity has no need to manifest its perfection, either to itself or to others. It
the Trinity, and this fact can be deduced from no principle nor explained by any sufficient reason, for there are neither principles nor causes anterior to the Trinity.
Tριάς: ‘name which unites things united by nature, and never allows those which are inseparable to be scattered by a number which separates,’ says St. Gregory Nazianzen.61
Two is the number which separates, three the number which transcends all separation: the one and the many find themselves gathered and circumscribed in the Trinity. ‘When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Ghost;
for Godhead is neither diffused beyond these, so as to introduce a multitude of gods, nor yet bounded by a smaller compass than these, so as to condemn us for a poverty-stricken conception of deity, either Judaizing to save the monarchy, or falling into Hellenism by the multitude of our gods.’62
St. Gregory Nazianzen is not seeking to vindicate the trinity of persons before the human reason: he simply shows the insufficiency of any number other than three. But we may ask whether the idea of number can be applied to God;
whether we do not thus submit the divinity to an exterior determination, to a form proper to our understanding–that of the number, three. To this objection St. Basil replies as follows: ‘we do not count by addition, passing from the one to the many by increase;
we do not say: one, two, three, or first, second and third. ‘For I am God, the first, and I am the last.63
Now we have never, even to the present time, heard of a second God;
but adoring God of God, confessing the individuality of the hypostases, we dwell in the monarchy without dividing the theology into fragments.’64
In other words, there is no question here of a material number which serves for calculation and is in no wise applicable in the spiritual sphere, where there is no quantitative increase.
The threefold number is not, as we commonly understand it, a quantity;
when it relates to the indivisibly united divine hypostases, the ‘sum’ of which is always the unity, 3=1, it expresses the ineffable order within the Godhead.
‘Oratio XXII, 8’, P.G., XXXV, 1160 CD.
‘Oratio XXIII, 10’, P.G., XXXV, 1161 C.
‘Oratio XLV, 4’, P.G., XXXVI, 628 C.
Is. XLIV, 6: ’Eγὼ
θεὸς πρῶτος, καὶ ἐγὼ μετα ταῦτα’ in the LXX. ‘I am the first and I am the last’, in A.V.
‘De Spiritu Sancto’, cap. 45, P.G., XXXII, 149 B. Edited with French translation by Benoit Pruche, O.P., Paris, 1947 (Sources chrétiennes), pp. 192–3.