Friday, September 05, 2008
Augustine on Friendship
For a class, I am (re)reading Augustine's Confessions. It has been four years since I last read them (way too long!). His life story drips with perception and deep insight while he bleeds Scripture in every turn of phrase. In book 4, a close friend of Augustine dies. The experience created a "tettered bleeding soul" and then Augustine pens what must be one of the greatest descriptions of friendship in Western Civiliation:
"There were other joys to be found in my friends' company which more powerfully captivated my mind - the charms of talking and laughing together and kindly giving way to each other’s wishes, reading well-written books together, sharing jokes and delighting to honor one another, disagreeing occasionally but without rancor, as a person might disagree with himself, and lending more excitement by that rare disagreement to our much more frequent accord. We would teach and learn from each other, sadly missing any who were absent and blithely welcoming them when they returned. Such signs of friendship sprang from the hearts of friends who loved and knew their love returned, signs to be read in smiles, words, glances and a thousand gracious gestures. So were sparks kindles and our minds fused inseparably, out of many becoming one.
This is what we esteem in our friends and so highly do we esteem it that our conscience feels guilt if we fail to love someone who responses to us in love or do not return the love of one who offers love to us, and this without seeking bodily gradification from the other save signs of his goodwill. From this springs our grief if someone dies, from this comes the darkness of sorrow and the heart drenched with tears because sweetness has turned to bitterness, so that as the dying lose their life, life becomes no better than death for those who live on. Blessed is he who loves You [Oh, Lord], and loves his friend in You and his enemy for Your sake. He alone loses no one dear to him, to whom all are dear in the One who is never lost. And who is this but our God, the God who made heaven and earth and fills them…Your law is truth, and You Yourself are Truth. "