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Fake Your Way Through a Conversation About: St. Augustine

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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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Art
Two Unknown Paintings by Raphael Discovered on the Vatican's Walls

The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.

Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.

Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.

The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.

One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.

Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.

"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."

"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."

"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."

[h/t artnet News]

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