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Exposition of St. Augustine Notion of Friendship in the Confessions

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In the Rule of St. Augustine, it says, “[t]he main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.” This is the life of communion journeying together towards God. God is the ground of this togetherness. It is God who calls us and bind us to be in the community, and inside the community we share each other’s life which is concretized in the idea of friendship. Friendship is the anchor that leads us to communion towards God.

How did Augustine discern on the meaning of true friendship? We can see in the confession that Augustine experiences a great variety of friendship in his life. We can see in the Confessions that the idea of Augustine on friendship has a development from a sham kind of friendship to a true meaning of friendship which is leads toward God – in Deum. It is necessary for Augustine to have friends in order to attain happiness, as he reflected, “even in the sense in which I understood happiness, without my friends, however lavishly supplied I might be with carnal luxuries.” (Confessions VI,16,26.). In his own life we can see that he is always in need of company. We can reflect this to his experiences particularly in the pear fruit theft, story of his dear friend, and his friends of Carthage.

In the pear fruit theft event, Augustine experienced a sham kind of friendship; it’s because it is only superficial and insincere. This kind of friendship only leads you to sin. Augustine and his friends knew that they were doing evil, but they do not care, for they enjoy the sin itself. “I simply wanted to enjoy the theft for its own sake and the sin.” (Confessions, II, 4,9.). Friendship also in this event is based solely for the sake of companionship – a company that brings great joy to him. But they don’t care to the consequences of what they do whether it will lead you to sin or not. As he said, “the theft gave us a thrill, and we laughed to think we were outwitting people who had no idea what we were doing, and would angrily stop us if they knew.” (Confessions, II,9,17.)

In the first year of staying at Carthage, Augustine encountered the “wreckers” who always involve on destructive activities, and Augustine tries to be friend to them in order to feed his ego. “I began in the accompany of these people to study treatises on eloquence. This was the discipline in which I longed to excel, though my motive was damnly proud desire to gratify my human vanity.” (Confessions III, 4,7.) This friendship is in some way egoistic. Augustine only wanted to friend the “wreckers” in order to gain fame, but doesn’t care to them if they sin or not. Aside from these, he delves into a kind of friendship that influences his carnal habit and made him a deceiver when he joins the Manicheism. This form of friendship is also a sham and devious for it leads only to sins in the form of carnal pleasures.

When Augustine went back to his town, He shared the story of the death of his dear friend. This was his close friend from his childhood, and they share together in community of interests. They gone to school together and enjoyed playing together. However for Augustine this kind of friendship was still not true because it is only rooted in mutual likeness. Augustine realizes that a true friendship is the work of God in binding people – a friendship that presupposes mutual love and hearts that is united.[1] As Augustine said, “I speak our union fell short of friendship is genuine only when you (God) bind fast together people who cleave to you through the charity poured abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. This is also the importance of the Holy Spirit in Augustine which is the binding element in friendship that keeps them together even they are separated. As it is said, “Yet even of friends you could say that they may seem to be separated in body, but they cannot be so in spirit in so far as they are friends.” (De Trinitate, IX, 6). Hence, for Augustine, true friendship is the one that leads towards God with mutual love bind by the Holy Spirit.

[1] Theodore Tack, OSA, If Augustine Were Alive: Augustine’s Religious iIdeal for Today, (Philippines: Makati, St. Paul Publications), 37

© 2019 Ian Lomboy

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