October 2012 - Vol.  63.

Love and Friendship in 
Thomas Aquinas
by Christoph Schönborn 

The one essential thing at the heart of every happy human and Christian life is friendship. It is of this I would like to speak. I have in my own life experienced that friendship is the most precious of all goods, and I am convinced that Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) made friendship the point on which his whole theological work turns, since he defined love, which no doubt is the quintessence of Christianity, as friendship. For many years these thoughts have occupied me.

I consider the treatise on love in the Secunda Secundae (the second part of the second book) of the Summa Theologiae to be the key, so to speak, to the whole work. I think that all the major themes and concerns of Aquinas are gathered and brought into focus in this treatise. Of course it is impossible to expound the entire treatise in the short time allotted to this talk. Still, I would like to try at least to present some of the central ideas of “quaestio 23”, which is devoted to the nature of love.

Is love friendship?
Saint Thomas begins his treatise on love immediately with the question of whether it is a kind of friendship. In keeping with his usual method, he begins first with objections to this supposition. They are weighty, as they always are when Saint Thomas broaches an important theme. He deliberately tries to make the counterarguments especially strong, so as then to present his assertion in a way that is even more clear and well founded. This method does not disparage or belittle the opponent, but rather brings out his arguments in the strongest and most concise possible way, so as to underscore the seriousness of the struggle to attain the truth. Saint Thomas never needs to malign or make light of those who think differently, because he is convinced that the light of truth shines brightly enough to prevail on its own.

For Thomas it is self-evident that love is the center and quintessence of the Christian life; after all, the commandment of love of God and love of neighbor is considered the epitome of the Law and thus of the will of God. But that love is a sort of friendship is anything but self-evident. Can there be friendship between God and man, when living together with the friend is an essential element of friendship? We are supposed to love God. But having friendly relations with God is not simply a given that we can take for granted.

The second objection likewise considers friendship to be a narrower concept than the concept of love. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. Therefore it is possible to love them, but one cannot cultivate friendship with one’s enemies. The third objection, too, is along these lines: I may be able to love sinners with the love of God. Does that mean that I can also be friends with them?

The objections seem, therefore, to aim at proving that friendship is something more restricted than love. Love knows no limits; it extends to God and to all mankind. Friendship, in contrast, is possible only with one’s equals and with those with whom we have ties of goodwill.

The argument supporting the thesis of Saint Thomas is taken from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper, when our Lord says to the Twelve, “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). When I was consecrated a bishop, I took this saying of Jesus as my motto: Vos autem dixi amicos. The one and only reason why our Lord calls his apostles friends is, according to Thomas, his love. Therefore the sort of love that Jesus bestowed on his disciples is proved to be friendship.

The argumentation that now follows in the main part of the first article is for me one of the greatest and most beautiful passages in the whole theological Summa. In a few strokes the Angelic Doctor not only sketches a doctrine about friendship but also sees the final purpose of all of God’s salvific works in the establishment of a friendship between God and man. Let us examine somewhat the lines of the argument.

In an earlier article, Thomas had already asked the question of whether it is right and appropriate to divide love (amor) into the love of friendship (amor amicitiae) and the love of concupiscence or desire (amor concupiscentiae). For love is treated by Thomas first under the aspect of passion (passio), as the fundamental form of the passion of desire (concupiscibilis). There (quaestio 26, art. 4 of the Prima Secundae) he has already explained that the love that is friendship is undoubtedly superior to the love that is desire. For desire is concerned with something I would like to have for myself. The love of friendship, however, is concerned with the good I wish for the other person. Love, however, is realized more fully when I want something good for another than when I am concerned about my own good.

Establishing friendship
Now article 1 in question 23 also presupposes this framing of the question. Thomas begins with the quotation from the farewell discourse: “No longer do I call you servants . . . but . . . friends” (John 15:15). But what sort of friendship is it that Jesus is talking about and that he grants to his disciples? “The Philosopher”, that is, Aristotle, gives the cue here. Not every love, he says, has the quality of friendship. In order for love to become friendship, it must have the character of goodwill (benevolentia). As long as we want something only for our own sake, it is the love of concupiscence. If it is said that someone loves wine, it would be ridiculous to maintain that there is a friendship in that instance. The wine is loved, not for its own sake, but rather for the sake of the joy that it gives me. In this sense Thomas also excludes the possibility that there could be a friendship between a man and a horse. (He must not have read the Narnia books by C. S Lewis; otherwise he would probably have spoken differently about the friendship between boys and horses.) 

The decisive element, however, is not just benevolence. Friendship exists only when there is mutual goodwill, for “only the friend is friend to the friend”, as Aristotle says. There must be reciprocity, therefore, and this presupposes real communication between the friends. We all are familiar with the painful experience of friendships fading when they are not constantly nourished by mutual exchange, conversation, and encounters.

But can there be a real reciprocity between God and man? Is not the distance between God and man infinite and thus ultimately unbridgeable? It is the most profound conviction of the Christian faith that God really communicates something of himself to us and, furthermore, that he has given himself to us in his Son and in the Holy Spirit. God shares his life with us, and that is why there is a true mutual relation of communion. More precisely: that is why it is possible to establish a friendship on the basis of this gift of God’s self- communication. 

If there is one expression that, in my opinion, summarizes the entire Summa Theologiae, it is fundari amicitiam. God wills “to establish a friendship” with his creature. The whole path of human and Christian life has its most profound meaning in this process of establishing friendship with God. And the whole ethics of interpersonal communication among men is summarized in this one expression: establishing friendship.

The prologue to the second book of the Summa is very important. There man’s entire path is depicted from the perspective of the image and likeness of God. Man is created in God’s likeness and is therefore called to realize this divine image by freely moving toward his destination. Continuing now in the vein of this prologue, we can now say more precisely that the entire meaning of human life consists in realizing the likeness of God in friendship with God. Thomas makes it clear that this establishment of a friendship also has a very specific place: fellowship and thus friendship with Jesus Christ. In him God has communicated himself completely to us men. That is why it is essential to establish friendship with God specifically as friendship with Jesus Christ, who came to make us his friends.

Let us look at the replies that Saint Thomas gives to the three objections:

Reply to objection 1. It is true that, at least in our bodily life, there is no immediate fellowship with God. It does exist, however, in the spiritual life. For even now our life is hidden with Christ in God, as the Apostle says (Col 3:3). Hence we already have now a real, albeit imperfect, fellowship with God that will be perfected in the beatific vision of God.

Reply to objection 2. Here Saint Thomas proves very beautifully the possibility of loving one’s enemy. There can be no friendship with an enemy; that is possible only between friends. But the friends of my friends nevertheless become in a certain sense my friends also, even though they are not directly congenial to me. If friendship with God unites us, then on the basis of this friendship we also love those for whom God did not hesitate to send his Son, even though they are our enemies.

Reply to objection 3. The same is true also of love for sinners. Even though d ect friendship with them does not seem appropriate, the love that God has for them (and for us too, since we ourselves are sinners) is reason enough to regard them with God’s love and in this light to love them also with the love of friendship.

This first and fundamental article of the treatise on love has provided us with the decisive keyword: fundari amicitiam. Now it is a question of examining more closely how this friendship between God and us is to be obtained, how it can grow and fully develop. > continued, see Part 2

> See Part 2: Friendship with God by Christoph Schönborn

[Excerpt from Happiness, God, and Man, by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Chapter 2, © 2011 Ignatius Press, San Francisco. Used with permission.] 
Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, is a highly respected spiritual teacher and writer, and a former student of Pope Benedict XVI. He has written numerous books including Jesus, the Divine Physician, Chance or Purpose?, Behold, God's Son

The Contribution of Thomas Aquinas
by R.C. Sproul 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork(Psalm 19:1).

The noted theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is our fourth example of faith from church history. Even as a child he exhibited a tremendous intellectual talent that would later be applied to the matters of theology. At the age of nineteen he joined the Dominicans, much to his parents chagrin. They kidnapped Aquinas and forced him to stay at home, but when his mother saw him continue to observe the monastic order even there, she helped him to escape.

Aquinas’ peers called him a “dumb ox” because of his physical appearance and soft-spoken ways. Over time, however, they began to recognize his fine mind and preaching gifts. They came to believe Aquinas’ teacher who said that “this dumb ox will change the world.”

One of the most important contributions that Aquinas made to the church was his teaching on God’s revelation. During the thirteenth century, Islam was spreading rapidly and Islamic philosophers became famous both inside and outside of the Islamic world. 

These philosophers were particularly known for teaching what was called the “Double Truth Theory of Knowledge.” This theory states that something can be true according to special revelation but false according to natural knowledge (and vice versa). The obvious problem with this theory is that it relativizes truth, making it neither universal nor permanent. Aquinas, however, vigorously denied this theory of knowledge and rose to give an answer.

Aquinas taught that while we know some things from the Bible, such as the Trinity, we know other things by studying God’s revelation in nature. An example of the latter would be our understanding of the complexity of the human body. Finally, he said that there were some things we can know both from special revelation and from natural revelation. An example of this is our knowledge that God exists.

Aquinas was emphatic that when both natural revelation and special revelation are rightly understood, the truth learned from one of these areas will never contradict the truth learned from the other. 

He rightly said that all aspects of God’s revelation are complimentary. We have Aquinas to thank for reminding us that all truth is God’s truth and is therefore both universal and permanent.

There is a sense in which every Christian owes a profound debt to Saint Thomas. To understand his contribution we must know something of the historical context in which he wrote. To gain a fair reading of any thinker, past or present, we must ask such questions as “What problems was he trying to solve? Why? What were the vibrant issues at stake in his day? What were the dominant controversies?” We know, for example, that throughout church history the development of theology has been prodded in large part by the threat of serious heresies. It was the heretic Marcion who made it necessary for the church to define the canon of sacred scripture. It was the heresy of Arius that provoked the council of Nicaea. It was the distortions of Nestorius and Eutyches that made the Council of Chalcedon necessary. The heat of controversy has been the crucible by which the truth of theology has been made more sharp, more lucid.

The threat to the church that awakened Saint Thomas from his own dogmatic slumber was one of the most serious challenges that Christendom has ever had to endure. Our present condition in the western world makes it a bit difficult to imagine the enormity of the threat. It was the rise and sweeping expansion of Islam that threatened Christianity in the thirteenth century. Our awareness of the threat tends to be limited to the more colorful and adventuresome element of it chronicled in the Crusades. Knights with crosses emblazoned on their chests riding out to free the Holy Land from infidels has a certain romance to it.

Saint Thomas also sought to rescue the Holy Land. Its walls were made of philosophical mortar. His lance was his pen and his coat of armor a monk’s garb. For Thomas the war was a war of ideas, a battle of concepts...

We are acutely aware that the church in our day has staggered under the assault of philosophers and scientists. There are few philosophers who see their task as being servants to the truth of God. There are few scientists today who see their task as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Secular universities are not known for their gentle nurturing of Christian faith. The popular music charts do little to promote the kingdom of God. Modern art and literature are not communicating the beauty of holiness. No wonder that the church seeks a safe place of solace far removed from the battleground of culture.

We need an Aquinas. We need a titanic thinker who will not abandon truth for safety. We need men and women who are willing to compete with secularists in defense of Christ and of his truth. In this regard, the dumb ox of Aquino was heroic.

[Excerpts from Heroes of the Faith, by R.C. Sproul, http://www.ligonier.organd chapter on "Thomas Aquinas" by R.C. Sproul in Chosen Vessels: Portraits of Ten Outstanding Christian Men, Servant Publications, 1985, Ann Arbor, Michigan]

Robert Charles Sproul, is an American Calvinist theologian, author, and pastor. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He is a prolific writer, speaker, and teacher.

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