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“When friendships were the noblest things in the world,” Jeremy Taylor observed, “charity was little.”1 So begins Gilbert Meilaender’s thoughtful examination of the theological significance of friendship. Meilaender features Taylor’s observation because he thinks it captures an important shift in Western culture, specifically the shift from a classical period in which friendship commanded a high degree of respect and attention from statesmen and philosophers alike to a modern period in which friendship has a much-reduced place, meriting little attention from intellectuals. Rather than claiming a central place in political and moral philosophy, friendship has been relegated to the private sphere, becoming so much sentimental grist for the commercial mill. How did such a state come to pass? Meilaender offers a few suggestions . The modern world, he notes, is one increasingly focused 139 5 A Companionship of Caritas Friendship in St. Thomas Aquinas Jeanne Heffernan Schindler 020 pt 2 (113-194) 3/20/08 12:49 PM Page 139 on work. The categories of the working world dominate our selfunderstanding , and we, unlike the ancients, are far more apt to identify ourselves with our occupation than with our circle of friends. The modern world is also marked by an extraordinary mobility, partly demanded and reinforced by the pressures of the workplace. We go where the jobs are. Such a setting, Meilaender observes, is hardly hospitable to cultivating the kind of friendships cherished by the ancients, which only develop through time spent together. Friends, Aristotle reminds us, must eat the required pinch of salt together.2 Yet for Meilaender economic changes alone cannot account for the decline of interest in friendship. Philosophical changes also play a role. He notes that the preoccupation of modern ethics, so dominated by Kant, is with obligations. In such a schema, friendship, which Meilaender calls “a personal bond entered freely and without obligation,”3 finds no place. Most relevant for our purposes, however, is Meilaender’s claim that theological factors share in the responsibility for the displacement of friendship. Citing Taylor’s observation again, Meilaender appeals to a New Testament passage that lends it support. Jesus did say to the disciples , “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? . . . And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:46–47). For Meilaender this text reveals the general tendency in Christian thought for philia to be superseded by agape. That this shift should occur is no mystery, given what Meilaender takes to be the fundamentally different character of the two. Agape love is nonpreferential , like the love of the Father who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, whereas philia is precisely “a preferential bond in which we are drawn by what is attractive or choiceworthy in the friend.”4 Moreover, philia is a bond marked by reciprocity, while agape extends even to our enemies. The love of agape is not only broader in scope than philia, it is also more constant. The bond of friendship can change, but agape should reflect God’s enduring faithfulness to the covenant. The tension Meilaender describes is the starting point for this essay, which seeks how friendship is regarded in Thomistic theology. Mindful of Jeremy Taylor’s charge (“When friendships were the noblest things in the world, charity was little”), I will focus attention on one question: Does Christian charity eclipse friendship? To consider this question in 140 T Jeanne Heffernan Schindler 020 pt 2 (113-194) 3/20/08 12:49 PM Page 140 the context of Aquinas’ encounter with Aristotle seems especially promising, for on the one hand, in Aristotle we find a supremely high estimation of friendship, and on the other, in Aquinas we find a celebration of charity as the highest theological virtue. Friendship in Aristotle Before examining Aquinas’ discussion of charity, we should recall Aristotle ’s extensive treatment of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics. From the very start of book 8 we are impressed with the seriousness of the topic, as Aristotle calls friendship “most necessary for our life” (Ethics, 1155a2), noting that “no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods” (Ethics, 1155a5–6). Rich and poor, powerful and weak, young and old—all stand in need of friendship . Yet friendship is not only a necessary thing, but also a fine thing, having to do with love. As Aristotle observes, we love a variety of objects, for instance, what is pleasant, useful...


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