Monday, August 16, 2010

St. Teresa on Friendship

teresa_avila_gerard In the Second Mansions of Interior Castle, (p. 24) St. Teresa of Avila talks about God speaking to us through good conversations while a few pages later (IC, p. 27) she takes up the theme of “evil companionship”.

Friendship is a natural part of being human. In relation to our faith, friendships can be either negative or positive. Christian tradition has displayed some ambivalence regarding human friendships. Many of the most profound teachers in the ascetical tradition warn about the inherent dangers of certain kinds of friendships. St. Theresa of Avila (The Way of Perfection Chp 4), St John of the Cross (The Dark Night of the Soul, I.4); St Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 20-21) all warn about the spiritual dangers of friendships in which the supernatural element does not dominate. Our friendship can be a distraction, or false consolation which leads us away from God. In other cases the closeness of friendship can lead to infidelity and inappropriate physical intimacy.

st-augustine While these warnings are real they do not represent the whole picture. In St Augustine’s Confessions the theme of friendship is present throughout the work. Much of the beginning of Confessions concerns the failure of his earlier friendships. Although he observes that friendship can be an occasion of sin when pursued for the wrong ends, he does not focus purely on the negative. St Augustine notes, ‘Human friendship is also a nest of love and gentleness because of the unity it brings about between many souls’ (2.5.10). St Augustine is able to delight in the natural aspects of friendship we all enjoy (Confessions, 4.8.3). St. Augustine’s notion of friendship is purified through his conversion (Confessions, 8). Friendship with Christ leads to the proper ordering of all human relationships.

Matthew Levering has pointed out that for St Augustine, “the ascent of the soul to friendship with the divine Trinity occurs through the friendship in and with Jesus Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit. This friendship takes effective shape in the community of believers, the church as the mystical Body of Christ united by her sacramental participation through the Holy Spirit in Christ’s saving work” (IJST,9.1,2007, p. 10).



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