May 222016

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, which is celebrated in all the Western liturgical churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist. In the Catholic Church it is officially known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it marked the end of a three-week period when church weddings were forbidden. The period began on Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter. The currently prescribed liturgical color is white.

Feasts within the church typically celebrate people or events. Trinity Sunday is rare in that it focuses on a theological doctrine. The trinity is an important building block of Christianity although the doctrine itself does not appear as such in the Bible. During the 2nd to 4th centuries (and later) there was enormous debate as to the exact nature of Jesus (known as the Christological problem). Was he created by God, or was he co-equal and co-existent with God? In other words, was he the same as God? Where does the Holy Spirit fit in ? I spent almost a whole year at Oxford (ironically including Trinity term) studying this problem in theology and was thoroughly bored by it. Still am. Is the trinity three intertwined infinite lines or cigar shaped over time? Yawn.

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The essentials of the doctrine grow out of John’s gospel and is not evident in other gospels. John states that Jesus is the creative Word of God in human form:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

John is deliberately echoing the opening of Genesis here, making it clear that Jesus and God are the same thing (with the Spirit of God added in for good measure).

Over the course of several centuries the official church hammered out the doctrine and enshrined it in three major creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Subscribe to these creeds, and you are good to go; object to these creeds and you are a heretic. The doctrine is certainly a big puzzle. How can three things be one thing?  Usually it is explained as one thing having three manifestations – roughly (1) eternal being (2) human form (3) action. This is very rough. I won’t go into detail.

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The doctrine became official church dogma over the objections of early theologians such as Arius (250-336), who asserted that Jesus was created by God, and was therefore subordinate to him. The Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325 deemed Arius’ philosophy (Arianism) to be a heresy. At the regional First Synod of Tyre in 335, Arius was exonerated. After his death, he was again anathemized and pronounced a heretic again at the Ecumenical First Council of Constantinople of 381.

To me, all these councils and arguments are a colossal waste of time. But they illuminate the inner workings of the official church (and why I have problems with organized religion). Arguments about the trinity were foundational in the split between Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054 meaning that in the course of 1000 years theologians could not agree. I tend to prefer Eastern approaches to Western ones. Western churches had a habit of using Aristotle and other philosophers to explain the nature of the trinity, whereas Eastern churches simply said that it could not be explained and should just be accepted as a mystery.  I’ll put it in simpler terms – don’t worry about it; get on with more important things.

In the traditional Divine Office of the Catholic Church, the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which is now rarely used, is said on this day at Prime. Before 1960, it was said on numerous days after Epiphany and Pentecost including Trinity Sunday. The 1960 reforms reduced it to once a year, on this Sunday. It is said as a kind of memorial to old arguments.

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Trinity Sunday has the status of a Principal Feast in the Church of England and is one of seven principal feast days in the Episcopal Church. Thomas Becket (1118–70) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the whole of western Christendom.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed a number of cantatas for Trinity Sunday. Three of them are extant, including O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165, Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding, BWV 176, and Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, BWV 129. This is my favorite:

Trinity term is the third and final term of the academic year at University of Oxford, the University of Dublin, Canterbury Christ Church University, and some independent schools in the United Kingdom. It runs from about mid April to about the end of June and is so named because Trinity Sunday falls within it.

The Cajun holy trinity, or holy trinity of Cajun cooking consists of onions, bell peppers and celery, the base for much of the cooking in the regional cuisines of Louisiana. The preparation of Cajun/Creole dishes such as étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya all start from this base. The holy trinity is the Cajun and Louisiana Creole variant of mirepoix, Traditional mirepoix is 2 parts onions, 1 part carrots, and 1 part celery, whereas the holy trinity is 3 parts onions, 2 parts celery, 1 part green bell pepper.


Étouffée (or etouffee) is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice. The dish employs a technique known as smothering, a popular method of cooking in the Cajun areas of southwest Louisiana. In French, the word “étouffée” (borrowed into English as “stuffed” or “stifled”) means, literally, “smothered” or “suffocated”, from the verb “étouffer.” Étouffée can be made with any shellfish such as crab or shrimp, though the most popular version of the dish is made with crayfish, locally referred to as “crawfish.” Étouffée is typically served over rice.

Here is an extremely simple recipe for crawfish étouffée which I use sometimes when I am in a hurry. It is very clean tasting and fresh. Some Cajun cooks use a dark roux as a thickener and add Cajun spices as well.  Do as you wish.

Crawfish Étouffée


4 oz butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped bell peppers
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp flour
1 cup water or fish broth
cayenne pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp chopped green onions


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and sauté until soft and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the crawfish and bay leaves. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the crawfish, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Dissolve the flour in the water (or broth) and add to the crawfish mixture. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Stir until the mixture thickens. Add the parsley and green onions and cook for about 2 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and serve over plain boiled white rice.

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