"To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.” -- C. S. Lewis
There are two books that have greatly shaped my understanding of friendship: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and C. S. Lewis' The Four Loves. The first taught me what friendship looked like, the second taught me why it looked like that. (The fact these two books work so well together is not a coincidence...Lewis kept a copy of Willows on his bedside table).
Consider the above quote: knowing about the philia Aristotle classified and the amicitia on which Cicero wrote an entire book should give us some pause -- surely, yes, the Ancients (and, indeed, the Medievals but that's an entirely separate post!) valued friendship in a way the modern world does not.
"[Friendship is]...the least natural of [the four] loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals.
...this (so to call it) "non-natural" quality in friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own. The deepest and most permanent thought of those ages was ascetic and world-renouncing -- nature and emotion and the body were feared as dangers to our souls...inevitably that sort of love [friendship] was most prized which seemed most independent, or even defiant, of mere nature. [The other loves] you could feel tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship -- in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen -- you got away from all that."
How obvious, then, that in the more disciplined cultures of the Ancient and the Medieval (how I love the Medieval!) friendship would be so treasured. And in contrast, today, in the modern culture of exalted emotions, of the feelings of the heart over the head, friendship is so despised and unknown. To these people it must look, as Lewis says, "thin and etiolated; a sort of vegetarian substitute for the more organic loves." Such a sad loss to us! Philia should not be thought of as somehow lesser than Eros, I don't think. Each of the four loves is unique; each one specific to its task, its blessing, its purpose.
One of my favorite passages in The Four Loves is near the beginning when Lewis talks about his friends Charles (Williams) and Ronald (J. R. R. Tolkien).
"Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but "A's part in C," and C loses not only A but "A's part in B." In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true friendship is the least jealous of loves."
This is a beautiful thought to me, one I've often mused over. I know but a handful of souls who are good friends to me, and who count me a good friend in return, but the most delightful times have always been when we were all in the same room. Each of us reveling in the other and altogether. I am not large enough on my own.
But Lewis pulls the reader out of this careful examination of Friendship to understand it in the larger context:
"...for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host. Not that we must always partake of it solemnly. "God who made good laughter" forbid. Iti s one of the difficult and delightful subtleties of life that we must deeply acknolwedge certain things to be serious and yet retain the power and will to treat them often as lightly as a game."I have nothing to add, and yet I recall (and agree) with the words of Emily Dickinson,"My friends are my estate. "
Addendum: I just came across this quote..."To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved." Trust, so foundational to friendship, further illustrates how un-jealous friendship is. Very good.