The concept of friendship is one of the central features of the Confessions by St. Augustine. Instead of providing a straightforward definition of friendship, St. Augustine gives an insight into the evolution of thought about the matter. He depicts how his understanding of the phenomenon evolves as he grows older and gains a deeper faith in Christ. Thus, the present paper reviews the different concepts of friendship described by St. Augustine in Confessions.
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St. Augustine claims that the basis of friendship changes as a person grows older. During adolescence, friendship exists solely for pleasure and taking advantage of another person. At the same time, this type of friendship involves doing anything to please your companion. St. Augustine confesses to God that he was self-centered, saying: “my beauty consumed away, and I stank in Thine eyes; pleasing myself, and desirous to please in the eyes of men” (St. Augustine, n.d., p. 48). Such friendship is not true, as claimed by St. Augustine (n.d.), and leads to giving up one’s values to be accepted in society. This kind of friendship may drive away from God, which is devastating for a person’s development. In short, St. Augustine warns the reader that in adolescence, friendship is self-centered and harmful.
Love as Basis of Friendship
In young adulthood, Augustine’s understanding of friendship evolves base on love and understanding. He states that common concerns and values drive two individuals to the ability to express what they really feel and care about instead of pleasing each other (Hansen, 2018).
In this sense, friendship is based upon the love that gives freedom. An example of such friendship can be found in Book IV of Confessions when St. Augustine describes his acquaintance with a teacher whose name is not disclosed. Augustine writes that instead of being interested in one aspect of a person, true friendship provides “fuel to melt our souls together” (St. Augustine, n.d., p. 87) through many activities and beliefs that are shared. Appreciating a friend for what he or she really is becoming the central idea in friendship during St. Augustine’s early adulthood.
Friendship and Christ
Even though the earthly meaning of true friendship is appealing, the understanding of the concept changes if a person finds God. As St. Augustine turns to Christ, his perception of the phenomenon shifts towards a more religious definition. The realization that the world is not purely material leads to an understanding that true friendship means going together to look for God. In Confessions, St. Augustine describes his friendship with Alypius, a close companion whose presence is always much appreciated.
However, St. Augustine is ready to part with him for the greater good and for spreading the word about our Lord and Savior. He considers all Christians to be friends and brothers in Christ, which is the only true friend. In brief, in his adulthood, St. Augustine believes that friendship is a spiritual matter and is connected with God.
The conception of friendship is a complicated matter that is addressed by many philosophers and thinkers during different epochs. While Aristotle considered friendship an essential part of a good life, St. Augustine sees it as a facilitator to find God. St. Augustine describes that friendship evolves from egocentrism to the love of our Lord. Christ is the friend of humanity, and other companions can help to find Him and spread the word about Him.
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Hansen, W. (2018). Augustine and CS Lewis on Friendship. VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center, 19-30.
St. Augustine. (n.d.). Confessions. (H. Chadwick, Trans.). Web.