Feb 22, 2012

My Friend: Saint Augustine on Friendship

[Note: This post is self-indulgent to the extreme. Reader beware!]

Oddly, only a year after the death of my good pastor-friend Ken Diehm on February 19, I ran across a story about Nebridius, who was a cherished friend of St. Augustine. Being near the same age, their friendship was clustered around many of the same interests—Catholicism, theology, rhetoric and philosophy. When Augustine was in Carthage it was through the good influence of Nebridius that Augustine abandoned astrology [termed mathematics in those days] as a way to interpret life. Nebridius was a long time and good influence on Augustine and, very soon after Augustine’s conversion, Nebridius died. “He is now,” says Augustine “in the bosom of Abraham.”

In The Confessions, Augustine writes [see book four]:

My heart was utterly darkened by this sorrow and everywhere I looked I saw death. My native place was a torture room to me and my father's house a strange unhappiness. And all the things I had done with him—now that he was gone—became a frightful torment. My eyes sought him everywhere, but they did not see him; and I hated all places because he was not in them, because they could not say to me, “Look, he is coming,” as they did when he was alive and absent. I became a hard riddle to myself, and I asked my soul why she was so downcast and why this disquieted me so sorely.

But she did not know how to answer me. And if I said, “Hope thou in God,” she very properly disobeyed me, because that dearest friend she had lost was as an actual man, both truer and better than the imagined deity she was ordered to put her hope in. Nothing but tears were sweet to me and they took my friend’s place in my heart’s desire.

I only write about Augustine and his friend because this week I have been thinking of my friend Ken and how fortunate I was to know him for almost 30 years. Augustine had a knack for friendship and for this reason I give him the last word—which is advice about friendship:

"If two friends ask you to judge a dispute, don't accept, because you will lose one friend; on the other hand, if two strangers come with the same request, accept because you will gain one friend."


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