Concerning true friendship

May 27, 2021 • 6 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 151

This is part of an Anthology of the Saints on Friendship, Love, and Marriage.

Chapter XIX.

True Friendship.

Love everyone, Philothea, with a great love of charity, but have no friendship except for those that communicate unto you the things of virtue; and the more exquisite the virtues are, which shall be the matter of your communications, the more perfect shall your friendship also be. If this communication be in the sciences, the friendship is certainly very commendable, but still more so if it be in the moral virtues—in prudence, discretion, fortitude, and justice. But should your reciprocal communication relate to charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, how precious will friendship be! It will be excellent, because it comes from God, excellent because it shall last eternally in God. Oh, how good it is to love on earth as they love in heaven, to learn to cherish each other in this world as we shall do eternally in the next.

I speak not here of that simple love of charity which we must have for all men, but of that spiritual friendship by which two, three, or more souls communicate one to another their devotion and spiritual affections, and make themselves all but one spirit. Such happy souls may justly sing: “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. cxxxi. 1); for the delicious balm of devotion distils out of one heart into another by so continual a participation, that it may be said that God has poured out upon this friendship his blessing and life everlasting. I consider all other friendships as but so many shadows in comparison with this, and that their bonds are but chains of glass or of jet in comparison with that bond of holy devotion which is more precious than gold.

Form no other kind of friendship than this. I speak of such friends as you choose yourself; but you must not, therefore, forsake or neglect the friendships which nature or former duties oblige you to cultivate with your parents, kindred, benefactors, neighbours, and others.

Many perhaps may say: “We should have no kind of particular affection and friendship, because it occupies the heart, distracts the mind, and begets envy;” but they are mistaken, because having seen, in the writings of many devout authors, that particular friendships and extraordinary affections are of infinite prejudice to religious persons, they therefore imagine that it is the same with regard to the rest of the world; there is, however, a material difference; for as in a well-ordered monastery, the common design of all tends to true devotion, it is not requisite to make these particular communications of friendship, lest by seeking among individuals for that which is common to the whole, they should fall from particularities to partialities; but for such as dwell among worldlings and desire to embrace true virtue, it is necessary for them to unite themselves together by a holy and sacred friendship, since by this means they encourage, assist, and conduct each other to good; for as they that walk on level ground need not lend each other a hand, whilst they that are on a rugged and slippery road hold one by the other to walk more securely, so they that are in religious orders stand in no want of particular friendships, but they that are in the world have need of them to secure and assist each other amidst the many dangerous passages through which they are to pass. In the world all are not directed by the same views, nor actuated by the same spirit; we must therefore separate ourselves, and contract friendships according to our several pretensions. This particularity begets, indeed, a partiality; but it is a holy partiality, which creates no other division but that which, of necessity, should always exist between good and evil.

No one surely can deny but that our Lord loved St. John, Lazarus, Martha, and Magdalen, with a sweet and special friendship. We know that St. Peter tenderly cherished St. Mark and St. Petronilla, as St. Paul did Timothy and St. Thecla. St. Gregory Nazianzen boasts, a hundred times, of the incomparable friendship he had with the great St. Basil, and describes it in this manner: “it seemed that in the one and the other of us there was but one soul dwelling in two bodies; and if those are not to be believed, who say that all things are in all things, yet of us two you may believe that we were both in each of us, and one in the other: we had each of us only one pretension to cultivate virtue, and to accommodate all the designs of our life to future hopes; going in this manner out of this mortal earth, before we died in it.” St. Augustine testifies that St. Ambrose loved St. Monica entirely, for the real virtues he saw in her, and that she reciprocally loved him as an angel of God. But I am to blame in detaining you so long on this very clear subject. St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, St. Bernard, and all the greatest servants of God have had very particular friendships, without prejudice to their perfection. St. Paul, reproaching the disorders of the Gentiles, accuses them of being people without affection, that is to say, that they had no true friendship. And St. Thomas, with all the wisest philosophers, acknowledges that friendship is a virtue; and he speaks of particular friendship, since, as he says, “Perfect friendship cannot be extended to a great many persons.” Perfection therefore consists, not in having no friendship, but in having none but with such as are good, saint-like, and holy.

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