True Friendship

by Saint Francis de Sales

Bishop of Geneva (15671622)

Love everyone with a deep love based on charity, Philothea, but form friendships only with those who can share virtuous things with you. The higher the virtues you share and exchange with others, the more perfect your friendship will be. If this participation is in matters of knowledge, the resulting friendship is certainly praiseworthy. It is still more so if you have virtues in common, namely, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. If your mutual and reciprocal exchanges concern charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, O God, how precious this friendship will be! It will be excellent because it comes from God, excellent because it leads to God, excellent because its bond will endure eternally in God. How good it is to love here on earth as they love in heaven, and to learn to cherish one another in this world as we shall do eternally in the next!

Here I do not refer to the simple love of charity we must have for all men, but of that spiritual friendship by which two, three, or more souls share with one another their devotion and spiritual affections, and establish a single spirit among themselves. Such fortunate souls may justly sing, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity." (Ps. 132). Yes, for the delicious balm of devotion is distilled from one heart into another by such unbroken participation, that it may be said that God on this friendship has poured down "his blessing and life forevermore." (Ps. 132) I hold that all other friendships are mere shadows in comparison with this, and that their bonds are but chains of glass or jet, when compared to this bond of holy devotion, for it is made entirely of gold. Do not form any kind of friendship except this. I refer to friendships you must make for yourselves, for you must not give up or neglect friendships that nature or earlier duties oblige you to cultivate with parents, kindred, benefactors, neighbors and others. I refer here only to those you yourself choose.

No one will deny that our Lord loved St. John, Lazarus, Martha and Mary Magdalen with a very sweet and special friendship, for the Scriptures tell us so. (Jn. 13, 23) We know that St. Peter tenderly cherished St. Mark and St. Petronilla, just as St. Paul did Timothy and St. Tecla. In many places St. Gregory Nazianzen boasts of his incomparable friendship with the great St. Basil, and describes it in this way: "It seemed that in us there was only a single soul dwelling in two bodies. We had each of us only one purpose, to cultivate virtue and to adapt all the purposes of our life to our future hopes, in this way leaving mortal earth before we died in it."

St. Augustine testifies that St. Ambrose loved St. Monica solely for the rare virtue he saw in her, and that she in turn loved him as an angel of God. I am wrong in detaining you so long on so obvious a subject. St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and all the greatest servants of God have had very particular friendships, without doing any harm to their perfection. When condemning the disorders of the pagans, St. Paul accuses them of being people "without affection," (Rom. 1, 31), that is, they had no true friendships. Together with all good philosophers, St. Thomas states that friendship is a virtue. He speaks of "particular friendship" since, as he says, "perfect friendship cannot be extended to a great many persons." Hence perfection consists not in having no friendships, but in having only those which are good, holy, and sacred.