2012 - Vol. 63.
and Friendship in
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
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.
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
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. >
2: Friendship with God by Christoph Schönborn
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.
of Thomas Aquinas
heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork(Psalm
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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
of the Faith, by R.C. Sproul, http://www.ligonier.organd chapter on
Aquinas" by R.C. Sproul in Chosen Vessels: Portraits of Ten Outstanding
Christian Men, Servant Publications, 1985, Ann Arbor, Michigan]
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.