When I was 10 years old, I watched an episode of Schoolhouse Rock on TV that featured the number three. “Three is a magic number,” sang the show’s narrator. As a boy, I was somewhat obsessive about the number. I would often repeat, “one, two, three,” three times in my mind. I haven’t done that for many years, although I am still fascinated by the number and I see evidence of its compelling properties everywhere: The past, the present and the future are the three dimensions of time. Height, width and depth are the three dimensions of the material world. The mind, the soul and the body are the three facets of man. Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colours, from which all the other colours can be made. The animal, vegetable and mineral are the three natural kingdoms on earth. Thought, word and deed are the three aspects of human behaviour. Earth is the third planet from the sun.
The number three is central to the Catholic faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the three persons of God. Omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient are His three attributes. Faith, hope and charity are the three pillars of salvation. The flesh, the world and the devil are the three enemies of man’s soul. Heaven, hell and purgatory are the three realms in the afterlife. God and Mary united to create Jesus, so three represents the Incarnation. According to tradition, three wise men visited Jesus at His birth. Jesus raised three persons from the dead. Prophet, priest and king are the three roles of Jesus. He began His ministry at the age of 30. His ministry lasted three years. He was 33 years old when He died. Peter denied the Lord three times, and Jesus reinstated Peter by asking him three times if he loved Him. The inscription on the cross was in three languages. Three people, including Jesus, were crucified. After Jesus died at 3 p.m., the day went dark for three hours. There were three days from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection.
I’ve heard it said that one and one always end in three. I believe that the third entity that is thus produced is dynamic. A man and a woman come together and produce a child. In that sense, three symbolizes procreation. Even if a husband and wife don’t procreate, they constitute a marriage, which is the third entity. A man becomes holy and one with God, and is thus a new creation (the third entity). In that sense, three symbolizes salvation.
Repeating a concept, ritual or word three times consummates it and empowers it. In storytelling or jokes, the rule of three or trebling is often used, where part of the story is told three times with minor variations. The first two instances create tension, and the third releases it by incorporating a twist. You will often hear that the most important factors in determining the value of real estate are location, location, location. How many times did the good witch of the north ask Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz to click her heels and repeat, “There’s no place like home”? Omne trium perfectum. Three represents what is real, solid, substantial, complete, entire, perfect and divine. Three is a magic number.