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Fake Your Way Through a Conversation About: St. Augustine

Name Dropping: Saint Augustine (Saint Uh-GUSS-tin if you're trying to impress people; St. AWW-guh-steen if you're talking about the town in Florida): (354-430). The most important Christian theologian ever, except for St. Paul, whose thoughts on God ended up filling out the latter half of the New Testament. Augustine didn't get so lucky—but he still gets read by anyone seriously studying the Christian understanding of God.

When to Drop Your Knowledge: Adds heft to your religion debates. But more importantly: Augustine authored one of the greatest pick-up lines in history, which works today just as nicely as it worked in CE 400.

THE BASICS:
Born in Africa (in what is now Algeria), Augustine was raised a Christian but left behind the blessed life when he began attending school in Carthage, which was sort of the fourth century's South Padre Island. In his youth, Augustine fathered an illegitimate son, but by the age of 21, he began to get serious about spirituality. He undertook a deep and serious study of Philosophy, Theology, and religion while teaching school in Milan—and then, on Easter Day in the year 387, Augustine was baptized a Christian. The Church would never be the same.

A mere eight years after his conversion, he was Bishop of Hippo (the Algerian city, not the Hungry Hungry board game icon), a position he held for the rest of his career. Although said to be an unusually good preacher—he made his outlandishly complicated theology comprehensible to a lay audience better than anyone has since—Augustine made his real mark with his writing. Confessions, a memoir-cum-Christian-apologia, is required reading for Catholic and Protestant seminarians alike. On the Trinity did more to define the Christian understanding of the Trinity than any Church Council. And City of God, which we recommend reading if you have seven or eight free years, is a sprawling and beautiful defense of Christianity against paganism that is so incredibly and utterly long that many people have converted to Christianity just so they wouldn't have to keep reading it.

From the beginning, the Catholic Church embraced Augustine's work. But his radical emphasis on grace as the means to salvation would later inspire the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin when they were asserting that faith alone leads to heaven. So, basically, everyone loved Augustine. Except of course the Manicheans, whom he helped destroy.

Fan_Catechism.jpgWait, Who Were the Manicheans?
Pop Quiz: What's the name of the religious sect founded by a charismatic fellow who believed in baptism and ended up getting crucified? Why, Manichaeism, of course. Founded in the 3rd century by a Persian named Mani who was eventually crucified for his beliefs, Manichaeism stressed the duality of good and evil and claimed to have successfully synthesized all the world's major religions. Although Manichaeism survived in Turkey and the Middle East until after 1000 CE, it was eventually overtaken by Islam and Christianity. We're just grateful Mel Gibson isn't a Manichean, because as gory as his "Passion" was, Mani's story was even worse: After being crucified in 276 by a Persian Emperor, Mani's body was flayed, gutted, stuffed, and hung up at the city gates as a warning to his followers.

CONVERSATION STARTERS:
Because Augustine's work was immediately considered so significant, a lot of his writing has survived—about 5,000,000 words, in fact. (That's approximately 100 of these books.)

There's a pervasive rumor that St. Augustine invented the phrase "missionary position." This is simply untrue. (However, there are vague statements in Augustine's writing that imply he believed the missionary position was the least sinful.) So where did the phrase "Missionary Position" come from? Its first use appears to have been in about 1969—probably by some counterculture kids who were ridiculing the position as boring and prudish.

Augustine is called one of the "Four Great Fathers of the Latin Church," but that's a little like saying that all four Beatles were created equal. Of the Four Fathers (the other three are the less-great and less-famous Jerome, Ambrose, and Gregory the Great), Augustine's importance far outstrips the others. He's Paul and John—so Augustine's the only fourth-century name you need to drop.

Augustine is so important that his mom got sainted (she's St. Monica), mostly for doing such an excellent job raising him. Augustine's dad, on the other hand, is not a saint. He is remembered primarily for cheating on St. Monica.

And finally, the pick-up line! In his memoir Confessions, Augustine recounts that he would pray, "Lord, make me chaste—but not yet." As Augustine well knew, this works great as a pick-up line. Nothing makes someone feel special like ripping off your habit or priestly collar and saying, "Lord, make me chaste—but not yet."

Fake your way through any conversation. All you need is Cocktail Party Cheet Sheets, the mental_floss book by John Green.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Church, a Cathedral, and a Basilica?
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What is the difference between a church, a cathedral, and a basilica?

Mills Baker:

A church is a "house of worship," a building in which Christians gather to perform the rituals of their religion and interact with one another and hold religious functions and so on. They can be very plain, very simple.

A cathedral is a church which is also the "seat," in the bureaucratic sense more than the literal sense, of a bishop (or, in some denominations, another comparably high-ranking ecclesiastical figure). You therefore ordinarily see just one cathedral per denomination per city. Because bishops are responsible for an area—in Catholicism a diocese—a cathedral can also be thought of as the church associated with the administration of an area.

In common usage, people call really big churches cathedrals pretty often, but this is imprecise and technically mistaken.

A basilica was originally a Roman building featuring certain architectural elements that supported its use as a public, open facility for business, trading, etc. These typically—but not always—included colonnades, naves, and aisles, not unlike a modern pedestrian mall.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
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When some churches were built with similar features in the time of early Christianity, they were called basilicas. Later, in Catholicism, the term acquired a new meaning: the pope designates some churches basilicas for a variety of reasons, and they become important sites:

The papal or major basilicas outrank in precedence all other churches. Other rankings put the cathedral (or co-cathedral) of a bishop ahead of all other churches in the same diocese, even if they have the title of minor basilica. If the cathedral is that of a suffragan diocese, it yields precedence to the cathedral of the metropolitan. The cathedral of a primate is considered to rank higher than that of other metropolitan(s) in his circonscription (usually a present or historical state). Other classifications of churches include collegiate churches, which may or may not also be minor basilicas.

So basilicas as Christian buildings are mainly a Catholic phenomenon. And indeed, the world's most famous basilica is of course St. Peter's in Rome, designed in part by Michelangelo, its plaza and baldacchino by Bernini, its balcony where crowds see their pope, etc.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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holidays
10 Things You May Not Know About the Easter Bunny
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Whether you attend a church service, decorate eggs, or devour Peeps, no Easter celebration is complete without a visit from the Easter Bunny. Check out these 10 things you may not know about the Easter Bunny, from its contested origins to its surprising iterations around the world.

1. IT MAY HAVE COME FROM A PAGAN GODDESS OF FERTILITY—WITH SOME HELP FROM A BROTHER GRIMM ...

"Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts.
Eduard Ade, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While we don’t know its exact origins, some believe the Easter Bunny has its roots in Anglo-Saxon paganism. According to Bede, a prolific 8th-century English monk, the Anglo-Saxon month Eosturmonath (broadly the Easter season) "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance." Whether Eostre was real or an invention by Bede has long been controversial, but scholarship on the goddess didn't really pick up for over a thousand years.

In his 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) speculated that Eostre was connected to a German goddess named Ostara (whose existence, again, is controversial). Almost 40 years later, Adolf Holtzmann wrote that "The Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of Ostara," and a contemporary named K. A. Oberle hypothesized that "the hare which lay the parti-coloured Easter eggs was sacred to [Ostara]."

Over the years, other writers repeated these speculations as fact, and the idea that a hare was one of Eostre's sacred animals spread. Although hares and rabbits are different species, they're often conflated because the animals look alike and are both associated with fertility.

2. … OR IT MAY COME FROM A MYTH ABOUT THAT GODDESS'S BIRD.

baby chick and bunny cuddling in a field
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Other scholars, however, think the Easter Bunny originated from an Anglo-Saxon myth about Eostre. According to the myth, the goddess was entertaining a group of kids one day. To make them laugh, she transformed her pet bird into a rabbit, giving it the ability to lay colored eggs. Eostre then gave the eggs to the children. A similar myth portrays a more malevolent Eostre, who turned her pet bird into a rabbit or hare because she was enraged. But other historians, noting the lack of any information outside of Bede regarding Eostre or Ostara, have speculated that these stories are possibly corruptions of Ukrainian folktales that explained that country's practice of making pysanky—essentially highly decorated eggs. An alternate hypothesis is that Oberle (or perhaps Holtzmann) made the decision that because the rabbit lays eggs it must have at some point transformed from a bird, making this story an entirely late-19th century invention.

3. THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH INTRODUCED THE OSCHTER HAWS TO THE U.S.

nest of colorful Easter eggs
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In the late 17th century, groups of Christian German immigrants began settling in Pennsylvania. They taught their children about the Oschter Haws (or Osterhase), a hare from German folklore that gave colorful eggs to well-behaved children on Easter. To prepare for the Oschter Haws's arrival, German and German-American kids built a small nest or basket for the hare's eggs. Over time, the Oschter Haws character gained popularity and was Americanized, morphing into the Easter Bunny.

4. IT'S NOT IN THE BIBLE, BUT IT MIGHT BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE VIRGIN MARY.

"The Madonna of the Rabbit," by Titian, circa 1530.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a secular symbol of a Christian holiday. Although the Easter Bunny doesn't appear in the Bible, some religious scholars argue that it was originally associated with the Virgin Mary, rather than the pagan goddess Eostre. Because rabbits and hares were so fertile, Ancient Greeks and early medieval Christians thought that the animals could reproduce without having sex. Consequently, artwork and manuscripts often depict the Virgin Mary with rabbit iconography, alluding to the view that both the Virgin Mary and rabbits were able to have virgin births.

5. IN AUSTRALIA, IT'S THE EASTER BILBY …

a chocolate Easter bilby
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Rather than celebrate Easter with bunnies, Australians are increasingly ushering in fall (which is when Easter falls in the southern hemisphere) with the Easter Bilby. Also called rabbit-bandicoots, bilbies are Australian marsupials with long, rabbit-like ears. Things began looking grim for bilbies two centuries ago, when new predators and diseases were introduced into their habitat. Then, European rabbits—an invasive species whose population really took off when a few were released more than 150 years ago so they could be hunted—drove them out of their natural habitat until only a few thousand of the animals remained. But in the 1980s and '90s, Australians began doing more to protect the bilby. A book called Billy The Aussie Easter Bilby popularized the concept of the Easter Bilby, and the establishment of the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia educated Australians about the ecological harm that rabbits wreak. Today, you can find chocolate bilbies in Australia around Easter time, and some chocolate companies even donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations that save the animals.

6. … AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, YOU'LL FIND THE EASTER BELL, WIZARD, AND CUCKOO.

Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
JESSICA GOW, TT/AFP/Getty Images

While the Easter Bilby might sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with it, other countries have their own, even weirder versions of the Easter Bunny. In most of France, children believe that flying church bells travel to the Vatican and bring back chocolate treats in time for Easter Sunday. In Sweden, kids dress up as wizards and witches rather than bunnies. And in Switzerland, the Easter Cuckoo (bird) is a symbol of the spring holiday.

7. A SENSORY-FRIENDLY EASTER BUNNY CATERS TO KIDS WITH AUTISM.

Easter Bunny greets a small child
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sensory-friendly Caring Bunny greeted and posed for photos with children with autism and special needs on World Autism Awareness Day in 2017. Sponsored by Autism Speaks, the event took place in malls across the U.S., which dimmed the lights, lowered the music, and shut down noisy escalators and fountains to accommodate kids who were unable to deal with the visual and auditory stimulation of a normal mall.

8. FAMOUS PEOPLE LOVE DONNING BUNNY COSTUMES.

The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
Joe Robbins, Getty Images

While most people enjoy dressing up for Halloween, celebrities can't seem to get enough of donning a big rabbit suit on Easter. Singers, actors, and sports stars such as Mariah Carey, Madonna, David Beckham, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West have all shared photos of themselves wearing Easter Bunny costumes, which range from a simple set of bunny ears to a full-body white, fluffy suit.

9. FORMER U.S. PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER WAS ONCE THE WHITE HOUSE EASTER BUNNY.

Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The White House's annual Easter Egg Roll, which began in 1878, draws children and families to the President's home for egg hunting and musical performances. Traditionally, a member of the president's administration dresses up as the Easter Bunny to entertain kids and their families. When George W. Bush was president, then-assistant U.S. trade representative for media and public affairs Sean Spicer wore the bunny costume. In March 2016, Spicer poked fun at his old role, retweeting a photo of himself with the comment: "The good ole days—what I would give to hide in a bunny costume again."

10. CHOCOLATE BUNNIES ARE INSANELY POPULAR.

chocolate bunny
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Halloween and Easter are the two big holidays for candy sales, with Easter sometimes coming out on top (at least in dollar sales). This year, Americans are expected to spend $18.2 billion on the holiday, and 89 percent of celebrants planned to buy Easter candy like chocolate bunnies, marshmallow bunnies and eggs, and jelly beans. About 90 million chocolate bunnies are produced every Easter, which makes for a ton of mouthwatering chocolate rabbits in kids' (and adults') Easter baskets.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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