That definition is concise and without emotion, and does not convey the rich reality of friendship.
True friendship is not just a "relationship", but generous love.
Augustine saw friendship as a spiritual relationship between two people.
It was based on love, leading each friend to work for the happiness of the other.
Friendship is an image of the love of God for us, according to Augustine, since authentic and generous friendship mirrors the love that Christ showed for us on the Cross, and which He described when teaching that "no greater love can one have than to lay down your life for a friend." (John 15:13).
It is a love that does not look for anything in return for the love given, and finds happiness in promoting the interests and happiness of the other.
Such a love warms the heart, thrills the mind, and urges the friend to give everything for the other--just as Christ does for us--and leads to happiness in this world while pointing to God, who, Himself, is Love.
Augustine regarded friendship so important and so valuable because he even believed that, of everything that exists in the created world, only true friendship could lead a person to God.
As for his assertion that there was no true friendship between him and his concubine
of thirteen years, it is worth remembering that educated women were rare in Augustine's milieu
of North Africa.
For a brilliant and highly educated man like Augustine, true friendship would have required an intellectual aspect that would have been difficult to find with most women of his time.
In the culture of North Africa
in the time of Augustine, as was also the case in classical culture before his time, spiritual friendship of this kind would have been restricted to his close male friends.
God is at the core of friendship for Augustine. This is evident in his many letters
that still exist.
In them he openly discussed issues of faith and life with so many people - men and women, young and old - with sincere affection (Confessions, 4, 4, 7; Letters 10, 73; Rule 1, 2).
(Continued on the next page.)
Like a Kindling Fire: Meanings of Friendship in the Life and Writings of
St Augustine. Drawing on the image of fire, Augustine associates friendship and fire, describing friendship as a sharing of the counsels of the heart. This excellent article was written by Edward C. Sellner in 1991 when he was Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spirituality at the
St. Catherine , at
St. Paul, MN . Published in Spirituality Today, Autumn 1991, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 240-257.