As Augustine came closer to God, his concept and practice of friendship became deeper and deeper.
As well as offer human support and consolation, Augustine saw friendship as having a spiritual purpose in the plan of God.
He saw it as a way through which people could be drawn closer to God.
In fact, Augustine saw it as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
The encyclopedia on the thought of Augustine, entitled Augustine Through the Ages, edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald O.S.A. (Eerdmans, 1999), contains entries on various topics associated with the understanding of friendship by Augustine.
Particularly interesting is the article by Thomas Smith who notes that Augustine "was the first Christian writer to elaborate a theory of Christian friendship" (p. 372).
In popular culture today, friendship is a neglected topic.
The emphasis is so much on the sexual aspect that any friendship between male and female would appear to be inevitably driven to the point of sexual contact.
In addition, too many friendships remain on the level of the useful or the pleasurable, two of the three categories of friendship described by Aristotle (p. 372).
For Aristotle, "true friendship" is based on the third category, "the good" (p. 372).
Augustine develops and transforms this classical tradition of friendship so that the bond of friendship becomes "the gift of the Holy Spirit through grace" (p. 372).
Friendship merely adds "the notes of attraction and delight to the Christian charity owed to all" (p. 372).
In his article, Smith points out that Augustine even allows for the possibility of thinking of the Holy Spirit as being the friendship of Father and Son (p. 373).
The radical difference between the view of friendship of Augustine and the sexual emphasis dominant in modern culture can be seen in the fact that the celibate and chaste Augustine still strongly valued his friendships to the point of writing in the City of God these words: "What consoles us in this human society so full of errors and hardships, except unfeigned faith and the mutual love of good and true friends?"
If the Holy Spirit is the one who consoles, then it is easy to see that consoling friendship based on the good is a gift from the Holy Spirit.
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