Some writers, past or present, have not found the subject matter they wanted to read and decided to write what they could not find. Aelred had read Cicero’s On Friendship, but could not find anything on Christian friendship. So he decided to write it himself.
The book is sectioned into three parts: Book One covers the theology of spiritual friendship, as discussed between Ivo and himself. He also lists two more worldly friendship types. Book Two and Book Three is another conversation between Aelred, Walter, and Gratian discussing practical points on forming and maintaining friendships.
Aelred doesn’t just jump into this theology, he sets the stage with how this conversation should be conducted between both parties.
He notices Ivo is silent in a group of talking monks and surmises that Ivo wants to talk privately. He tells Ivo he likes the fact that he is not an idle-talking monk, speaking only what is “useful and necessary.” For this reason, Aelred trusts Ivo to speak freely, knowing that time will not be wasted (on what I would call frou-frou). Aelred tells Ivo, he will be treated as an equal partner in the conversation.
Laying the foundation for their conversation, they agree to use Cicero’s definition of friendship as a starting point. “Friendship is mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.” Ivo asks what the two terms mean and Aelred replies that benevolence means affection of the heart and charity means carrying out in deed. In other words, one is a feeling and the other is an action.
Ivo can’t see how true friendship can be lived with those who live without Christ. Aelred says though Cicero’s definition is imperfect for all types of friendships, you can get some idea of the nature of friendship.
He tells Ivo that he won’t teach what he doesn’t know. Aelred then proceeds to explain that a friend is a “guardian of our mutual love or the guardian of my spirit to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe.” In other words, protect your friend’s privacy, speak the truth in love when needed and wanted, and have patience.
Aelred does refer to spiritual friendship as being a “sweetness.” This counters Ivo’s argument of even trying if, as Cicero states, friendship is rare. And regardless of the outcome of any friendship, knowledge is gained.
He does define two other types of non-spiritual friendship. Both can turn into spiritual friendship.
- Worldly – useful for getting money.
- Carnal – useful for getting passionate desires met.
Aelred also references Adam and Eve in friendship. “How beautiful it is that the second human being was taken from the side of the first. So that nature might teach that human beings are equal…neither superior nor inferior, a characteristic of true friendship.” From beauty to ugliness, the fall of Adam and Eve corrupted charity and friendship. Once this happened, friendship remained among whom he refers to good, according to natural law.
For his final question, Ivo wants to know if wisdom can be abused through pleasing others through it, being prideful with it, or selling it. Aelred answers these are vices, so they are not an aspect of wisdom, so no.
- True friendship is a trinity – Christ in the middle of two bound together for eternity.
- When Aelred tells Ivo he can’t teach what he doesn’t know, he is showing humility and honesty towards Ivo. Servant leadership. I had a boss once who epitomized a true leader. One thing she hated was the small talk before business meetings. This is where I learned the term frou-frou. Seriously, though, agreeing on the terms of conversation dispels confusion later and keeps it steered in the right direction.
- Aelred’s definition of friendship as each other’s guardians makes me think of the protection of each other and God’s protection of us in Psalms 91.
- In the days ahead, as society is rebuilt with a godly foundation, true friends will be role models.
- I looked up natural law. Divine timing – the next day after I wrote this, I heard a radio interview mention natural law and our Founding Fathers. Worth looking up.
At the end of Book One, Ivo doesn’t want to wait for another conversation, but he does this side of heaven. He dies before Book Two is written. We will have the practical aspects taught to us through Aelred’s conservation with Walter and Gratian.