True Friendship

“Now I think the word amicus [friend] comes from the word amor [love], and amicitia [friendship] from amicus.  For love is a certain “affection” of the rational soul whereby it seeks and eagerly strives after some object to possess it and enjoy it.  Having attained its object through love, it enjoys it with a certain interior sweetness, embraces it, and preserves it.” Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship I. 19. trans. Mary Eugenia Laker (Kalamazoo, MI: 1977), pp. 54-55. [Italics in original]

Aelred wrote this dialogue on spiritual friendship as a Cistercian abbot in the twelfth century.  While he used Cicero’s Friendship as a primary source for his dialogue, he combined it with copious biblical citations.  In this work Aelred presents the nature of true friendship and its foundation: love.  Aelred explained:


“Furthermore, a friend is called a guardian of love or, as some would have it, a guardian of the spirit itself.  Since it is fitting that my friend be a guardian of our mutual love or the guardian of my own spirit so as to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, let him, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe in it; let him rejoice with his friend in his joys, and weep with him in his sorrows, and feel as his own all that his friend experiences.

Friendship, therefore, is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness, and out of many are made one.  Even the philosophers of this world have ranked friendship not with things casual or transitory but with the virtues which are eternal.  Solomon in the Book of Proverbs appears to agree with them when he says: ‘He that is a friend loves at all times,’ manifestly declaring that friendship is eternal if it is true friendship; but, if it should ever cease to be, then it was not true friendship, even though it seemed to be so.” Aelred, Spiritual Friendship I. 20-21. Ibid., p. 55. [Emphasis added]

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