In my book, Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love, which I have been reading recently with a hungry sort of ache in my heart, I’ve been taken through a historical survey of various Western philosophers’ and theologians’ metaphysic of love, friendship and especially caritas— which is broadly defined as Christian love.
All theologians create a basic category for the God-human friendship which is rightly central or primary to all other relationships. All other friendships flow from this source, whether with fellow humans or with angels. One contrast is between friendship that is a particular loyalty to a more universal gospel command to love one’s neighbor. What Thomas Aquinas has to say about the universal effect of caritas as friendship with God is significant. It effects eternity as God is enjoined to the other through our love for God and neighbor. Our love for the stranger, for our enemy, who are our particular neighbors are essential to the salvation of them and the creation. “Friendship-love is the moral determinant of the relationship to each and every other human being.” This friendship-love is impartial and given liberally to all by those who are friends of God, or who are at one with God, essentially, in the way that he loves. In this way, friendship love cannot be exclusive and each particular friendship must hold more and more an element of the all-embracing love of humankind. Thomas does expound on the particular friendship-love relationship. However, I found the contrast in Augustine’s experience and description of particular loyalties more pronounced. Augustine’s maturation environment and public life was filled with fierce loyalties and effected by influential friends—which is to say, the friendships forged were for personal merit and power. His particular preoccupation with the nature of human relationships is evident in his writings as he moved from particular loyalties and patronage to a new ideal of Christian friendship. He longed for the joy and mutuality in particular friendships “to love and be loved in return” but also encountered the destructive nature and pain of exclusive friendships. He notes that Jesus, chose fisherman as particular friends, not senators. This seems to suggest that status has much to do with how true a friend can be. While in Christ, God so loved the world, those who participate in the fellowship of God and the saints, thus, overflow in their love to all creation.