Three-Fold Deities and the Holy Trinity
Religions have often borrowed ideas from one another. Christianity, as a young religion in comparison to many others, borrowed heavily from the ideas around it, especially from the pagans, a simpler term for believers of polytheistic religions, Christians wished to convert. The symbol of the Holy Trinity began with the three-fold deities of earlier religious traditions.
Three is an important number in many religions, because the number is a lucky number and it is also a symbol for wholeness. One is unable to multiply, and two creates the opposite forces, but there is nothing to balance them. Once three enters the picture, not only is there cause for more multiplication, but there is also a balance of the opposite forces. As the first prime number, three represents perfection. One is good, two is better, and three is best (“Three”). In the bible itself, there are numerous references to the number three: three wise men bring gifts for Jesus, Peter denies Christ three times, and three days between Jesus’ death and rising.
Since three is so important to many people, many gods’ and goddesses’ symbols had three faces or forms. The oldest reference to this is in the Hindu religion, where Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are worshipped as one, though they are in fact three separate deities. When Sir William Jones, a philologist who documented Sanskrit in the late 1700s, went to India, he surprisingly noted that the worship of the three gods were much like the Trinity, and that converting them, in that respect, would be simple, although the idea of Christianity did not catch on in India (“The Idea of Trinity”). Another pre-Christian example of three separate deities worshipped as one is the Egyptian Osiris, Isis, and Horus, worshiped as father, mother, and child (“Three”.) The Romans and Greeks, since their mythologies are so interwoven, also had many deities with three forms: the Fates and the Furies, to name two.
“The pagan Romans worshipped a Trinity. An oracle is said to have declared that there was First God, then the Word, and with them the Spirit. Here we see the distinctly enumerated, God, the Logos, and the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, in ancient Rome, where the most celebrated temple of this capital—that of Jupiter Capitolinus was dedicated to three deities, which three deities were honored with joint worship” (“The Idea of Trinity”).
In the Celtic religion, Brigit was a goddess of poetry and wisdom, medicine, and smiths. Because of her three manifestations, she is considered a threefold goddess. In Celtic traditions, a god or goddess with three forms depicted their divine powers. It is also interesting to note that Brigit also manifests herself as St. Brigit, a midwife to the Virgin Mary, and also credited with many miracles. Interestingly, the feast of St. Brigit falls on February 1st, which is also Imbolc, the pagan festival which honored the goddess Brigit (“Brigit”).
The Holy Trinity itself is a three-fold example. The Trinity was created by early Christians who had once been Jews, so they were taught that there was only one god. Yet, there was Jesus to consider, whom they thought was the Messiah and the son of god, and there was also the spirit of god, which was always with them. Putting the three together, they came up with the Holy Trinity and, despite much speculation and outcry, in 381 AD the Trinity finally became recognized by the Council of Constantinople (“Three”). The idea also came from the Phaedo, written by Plato around 400BC. The first part of Plato’s Trinity was Agathon, Greek for “the supreme God or Father” (“The Idea of Trinity”). Then came Logos, or word, and lastly Psyche, or soul, spirit, ghost. This follows with the Holy Trinity: Father as the Supreme God, Son as the bringer of the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit as the spirit for which god lends himself to everyone (“The Idea of Trinity”).
When Christianity came in existence, some people followed the pagan ways. When a person believes something very strongly, it is hard to break his faith. Faith is to a single man complete fact. Pagans believed in the power of the number three. In order to accept the concept of only one God, man had to make the argument logical. By instituting the Holy Trinity, God’s power made more sense to the pagans. Three faces made a god strong and powerful, so adding a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to Christianity was a useful marketing tool. Combined with all the other pagan beliefs (adaptations of festivals to Christian holidays among that), it became easy for the pagan to switch religions.
To connect the symbolic power of three to both the Holy Trinity and to the pagan religions is not going against Christian belief. Humans created religion. They also borrow from each other to perfect their cooking, their machinery, and their language. As such, they borrow ideas to perfect their religion, to gain mass appeal. If past beliefs did not influence the creators of the Trinity, then the Trinity would not exist. The Holy Trinity represents the power of God.
Man, Myth, and Magic. 1985, vol. 10. “Three.”
Man, Myth, and Magic. 1985, vol. 2. “Brigit.”
“The Idea of Trinity.” The Book of Threes. April 10, 2007:
The Encyclopedia of Religion. “Trinity”.