True vs vain friendships

May 28, 2021 • 5 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 154
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XX.

The difference between true and vain Friendships.

Observe, Philothea, this important admonition. As the poisonous honey of Heraclea is so like the other that is wholesome, that there is great danger of mistaking the one for the other, or of taking them mixed together (for the goodness of the one cannot destroy the poison of the other), so he must stand upon his guard, who would not be deceived in friendships, particularly when contracted between persons of different sexes, under any pretext whatsoever.

The devil often effects a change in those that love: they begin with virtuous love, which if not attended by the utmost discretion, sensual love will begin to mingle, and afterwards carnal love; yes, there is even danger in spiritual love, if we are not extremely upon our guard: though in this it is more difficult to be imposed upon, because its purity and whiteness make the spots and stains which Satan seeks to mingle with it more apparent, and, therefore, when he takes this in hand he does it more craftily, and endeavours to slip in impurities by almost insensible degrees.

You may distinguish worldly friendship from that which is holy and virtuous as the poisonous honey of Heraclea is known from the other; for, as the honey of Heraclea is sweeter to the tongue than the ordinary honey, because of the juice of the deadly nightshade which gives it additional sweetness, so worldly friendship ordinarily produces a great profusion of sweet words, passionate expressions, together with admiration of beauty, behaviour, and other sensual qualities, whereas, holy friendship speaks a plain and sincere language, and commends nothing but virtue and the grace of God, the only foundations on which it subsists.

As the honey of Heraclea when swallowed occasions a giddiness, so false friendship breeds a vertigo in the mind, which makes persons stagger in chastity and devotion, hurrying them on to affected and immodest looks and caresses, inordinate sighs, and ridiculous complaints of not being beloved; to a studied and enticing demeanour, to gallantries, to kisses, and other familiarities, the certain and unquestionable signs of the approaching ruin of chastity.

But holy friendship has no looks but what are simple and modest, no caresses but pure and sincere ones, no sighs but for heaven, no familiarities but spiritual, no complaints but when God is not beloved—infallible marks of purity.

As the honey of Heraclea is troublesome to the sight, so this worldly friendship dazzles the judgment to such a degree that they who are infected therewith think they do well when they do ill, and believe their excuses and pretexts for two reasons: they fear the light and love darkness. But holy friendship is clear-sighted and never hides itself, but appears willingly before such as are good.

In fine, the honey of Heraclea leaves a great bitterness in the mouth; so false friendships change into lewd and carnal words and demands; or, in case of refusal, into injuries, slanders, impostures, sadness, confusion, and jealousies, which often terminate in downright madness.

But chaste friendship is as equally honest, civil, and amiable, and never changes except into a more perfect and pure union of spirits—a lively image of the blessed friendship which exists in heaven.

St. Gregory Nazianzen says, that as the cry of the peacock, when he struts and spreads his tail, attracts the peahen; so when we see a man dressed in his best approach to flatter, cajole, and whisper in the ears of women or girls, without pretention to lawful marriage, then, no doubt, it is but to win them away from virtue; and every virtuous woman will stop her ears against the voice of such an enchanter who seeks thus craftily to charm her; but should she hearken to him, good God! what an ill presage is it of her future downfall.

Persons who use gestures, glances, and caresses, or speak words in which they would not willingly be surprised by their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives or confessors, testify thereby that they are treating of something contrary to honour and conscience.

Our Blessed Lady was troubled when she saw an angel in the shape of a man, because she was alone, and that he gave her extraordinary though heavenly praises. O Saviour of the world! if purity itself was afraid of an angel in the shape of a man, why should not a weak woman fear a man, even though he should come in the shape of an angel, more especially when he praises her with sensual and earthly commendations?

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