Since Augustine has been consuming much of my thought lately, I thought I’d let him consume my blog as well. Augustine was a man who was never alone, but always surrounded by friends. Why? It wasn’t by accident. Friendship helped Augustine to worship and live for and ultimately enjoy God better. Here are some of the concluding thoughts from a recent paper I wrote on Augustine’s theology of friendship.
This community of companions (“all my friends and relations” ) that travelled with Augustine was altogether with one heart pursuing God and challenging each other to pursue him as well. This is effective friendship, since “a man will not imitate any but his friends.” Augustine sees this in the very creation, where each was made according to its own kind; so it is friendship, that each of us will become like our friends. In this way friends can spur each other on to a more godly life. This was the desperate hope and goal of friendship for Augustine: “My soul, tell this to the souls that you love. Let them weep in this valley of tears, and so take them with you to God. For if, as you speak, the flame of charity burns in you, it is by his Spirit that you tell them this.”
Yet perhaps the most profound element of friendship in Augustine’s thought is the idea that in friendship, one will fulfil the twofold commandment. Augustine here adapts Cicero’s definition of friendship, which involved simply doing what is best for the other person, in a reciprocal relationship. “If God is seen as the highest good towards which everything must be directed and if all love must focus on God before all else for it to be truly Christian, friendship among Christians gains a new perspective.” For Augustine then, you are loving God and loving another as yourself by helping him to love God, which is his greatest good, which in turn he will do for you, as this is your greatest wish for yourself as well. Friendship for friendship’s sake—even friendship for the other person’s sake—is no longer in view at all in Augustine’s thought.
This friendship which is centred entirely on God and his goodness benefits all involved by helping them to gain a clearer vision of him. “Sage has observed that the anima una ‘est pour S.Augustin, à partir de 407, l’énigme et le miroir par excellence où il nous est donné dès ici-bas à comprendre, comme nous le pouvons, le mystère de Dieu’.” To Augustine, the most valuable friend in the world is the one who can best reveal God to him and push him to pursue God. In short, “Augustine thinks of friendship as beginning, continuing and ending in God—friendship is participation in the life of God.”