More advice on friendship

May 30th, 2021

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


From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 159:

Chapter XXII.

More Advice on Friendship.

I have another important piece of advice to give you on this subject.

Friendship requires great communication between friends, otherwise it can neither grow nor subsist. Therefore it often happens that, with this communication of friendship, divers other communications insensibly glide from one heart to another, by a mutual infusion and reciprocal intercourse of affections, inclinations, and impressions.

But this happens especially when we have a high esteem for him whom we love; for then we open our heart in such a manner to his friendship that, together with it, his inclinations and impressions enter rapidly in their full stream, be they good or bad.

Certainly the bees that gather the honey of Heraclea seek nothing but honey; but yet, with the honey they insensibly suck the poisonous qualities of the aconite, from which they gather it.

On these occasions, Philothea, we must carefully put in practice what the Saviour of our souls was accustomed to say: “Be ye good bankers, or changers of money:” that is to say, “Receive not bad money with the good, nor base gold with the fine;” separate that which is precious from that which is vile; for there is scarcely any person that has not some imperfection.

For why should we receive promiscuously the faults and imperfections of a friend, together with his friendship? We must love him indeed, notwithstanding his imperfections, but we must neither love nor receive his imperfections; for friendship requires a communication of good, not of evil.

Therefore, as they that draw gravel out of the river Tagus separate the gold which they find to carry it away and leave the sand on the banks, so they who have the intercommunication of some good friendship ought to separate from it the sand of imperfections, and not suffer it to enter into their souls.

St. Gregory Nazianzen testifies, that many, loving and admiring St. Basil, were brought insensibly to imitate him, even in his outward imperfections, as in his slow speech, his abstracted and pensive spirit, the fashion of his beard, and in his gait.

And we often see husbands, wives, children, and friends, who, having a great esteem for their friends, parents, husbands, and wives, get, either by condescension or imitation, a thousand little bad habits, which they have one with another.

Now, this ought by no means to be so, for everyone has evil inclinations enough of his own, without charging himself with those of others; and friendship is so far from requiring it that, on the contrary, it obliges us mutually to aid and assist one another, with a view to our being freed from all kinds of imperfections.

We must indeed meekly bear with our friend in his imperfections, but we must not lead him into imperfections, much less imitate his imperfections ourselves.

But I speak only of imperfections; for as to sins, we must neither occasion them, nor tolerate them in our friends. It is either a weak or a wicked friendship to behold our friend perish and not to help him; to see him die of an abscess, and not to dare to open it with a lancet of correction, to save his life. True and living friendship cannot subsist in the midst of sin.

It is said that the salamander extinguishes the fire in which he lies, so sin destroys the friendship in which it lodges. If it be but a transient sin, friendship will presently put it to flight by correction; but if it be habitual, and take up a permanent abode, friendship immediately perishes, for it cannot exist but upon the solid foundation of virtue.

We must never, then, commit sin for friendship’s sake. A friend becomes an enemy when he would lead us to sin; and he deserves to lose his friend when he would destroy his soul.

It is an infallible mark of false friendship to see it exercised towards a vicious person, whatsoever kind his sins may be; for if he whom we love is vicious, without doubt our friendship is also vicious; since, seeing that it cannot respect true virtue, it must needs be grounded on some frivolous virtue, or sensual quality.

Society formed for trade purposes among merchants is but a shadow of true friendship, since it is not made for the love of the persons, but for the love of gain.

Finally, the two following divine sentences are the two main pillars to secure a Christian life; the one is that of the wise man: “He that fears God shall likewise have a good friendship;” the other is that of the Apostle St. James: “The friendship of this world is the enemy of God.”

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