We always think of chastity in relation to our romantic relationships, but it applies to all of our relationships, including our friendships. Friendship is a relationship much neglected by the modern world. In TV shows, movies, and books, we witness romantic relationships placed on a pedestal for all to see, but only rarely does true friendship come along. This is a shame, because friendship has so much to teach us about both ourselves and others. However, not all friendship is the same, and we’re going to look first at Aristotle’s distinction between three kinds of friendship in order to clarify which type of friendship is so good for us.
Three Kinds Of Friendship
In John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, he employs Aristotle’s distinction between three kinds of friendship based on three kinds of affection that unite people. The first to be dealt with is friendship of utility. In a friendship of utility, the affection that both friends feel for each other is based on the benefit or use that the friends derive from the relationship. Each person “gets” something out of the friendship that is to his or her advantage, and it is this benefit or “use” that unites and keeps the friends together. Examples of this can include many work-related friendships, in which the affection between the friends is born of the help they can give each other.
A second kind of friendship is a pleasant friendship or a friendship of pleasure. As the name suggests, the basis of affection here is the pleasure one gets out of the relationship. A person is led to see the friend primarily as a source of pleasure or fun for himself. They may be interested in, or play, the same sport, listen to the same music, watch the same movies, or attend the same nightclub. Both friends may truly care for one another, but the primary link between them is pleasure or the good times they experience together. Both friendships of utility and friendships of pleasure are valid forms of friendship which Aristotle notes, but they are not the highest form of it. The highest form of friendship is the virtuous friendship.
Virtuous friendship is friendship in the fullest sense. It involves two friends united in the pursuit of a common goal, the good life, rather than some use or pleasure. As mentioned, the common goal is the “good life”, a moral life that is found in virtue. Whereas friendships of use or pleasure are focused on what I get out of the relationship, virtuous friendships see the two friends committed to the pursuit of something outside of themselves, something higher than themselves. It goes beyond their own self-interest. It is this higher good that unites them in friendship. Friendships of use or pleasure could be described as relationships in which the friends have their gazes on themselves or on each other, but the virtuous friendship sees two friends gazing towards the good, together. It is about striving side-by-side towards the higher goal and encouraging each other in the virtues. Rather than focusing on what I am getting out of the friendship, the main consideration is what is best for the friend and with pursuing the “good life” with that friend. However, since Jesus himself told us that he regards us as friends, we understand that there’s a different type of friendship available to us altogether, one that takes us beyond the world.
Christ As The Way And The Goal
Jesus tells us:
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
We’ve discussed Aristotle’s virtuous friendship as the highest form of friendship, but we can go further and say that the highest form of virtuous friendship is friendship with Christ. What does this mean? As the quote above suggests, Jesus views us primarily as friends and is constantly inviting us to engage with him as a friend. If virtuous friendship is about friends gazing towards a higher goal together, what is it that Christ wants us to strive towards with him? He wants us to strive towards the highest good possible, which is love. Jesus tells us that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and his commandment is to love one another as he has loved us. It becomes clear that friendship with Christ is rooted in love. He is always with us, encouraging us to love as he does. How does this apply to our everyday friendships, then?
Chastity and Friendship
Chastity allows true love to enter into our friendships. Chastity and friendship may sound a little strange together initially, but chastity can be applied to any relationship. Friendships formed in work, college, school, the church, the gym, and elsewhere will all find benefit in it. Chastity is universal. Love is about willing the good of the other, and chastity is the practical application of love to our relationships. We learn that Jesus invites us all into friendship with himself, and this friendship involves a focus on love, on God, above all else. When we focus on our friendship with Christ, all of our other friendships are taken up in this. How, then, does this affect our other friendships?
As we’ve mentioned, chastity is the practical application of love to our relationships, or our friendships in this case. It involves willing the good of the other above our own desires. This approach to relationships reveals itself in a number of ways, some of which may help us to better understand how exactly chastity is applied to friendship. Suppose you’re sitting down to relax in the evening when a friend calls asking for help. While the easy thing to do is form an excuse and relax the evening away, chastity compels us to place our friend’s good above our own desires, which in this instance would see us going to our friend’s aid. Another example might see our friend suggest an activity we might not enjoy, but that they love. Again, the easy thing to do would be to excuse yourself, or find another activity, but the chaste option is to join your friend. You place them above yourself. These are simple examples, but they can be very difficult to carry it out. However, there are a number of examples of chaste friendships, rooted in love, that should give us reason to hope.
We can look to St. Therese of Lisieux, who spoke so warmly of friendship in her autobiography The Story of a Soul, in order to find true friendships in abundance. She was particularly close to each of her sisters, and later makes mention of one of the companions she acquired in Carmel. She notes that “an affection which showed signs of helping us in the practice of virtue”, developed between them. This is where true friendship is to be found. As we’ve established, it is not about standing there looking at each other, but about standing side-by-side and striving towards the good, together. St. Therese recognised this, and her friendships reflected this desire to help her friends grow in virtue.
Fiction also offers us idealised portrayals of friendship, foremost among them that which exists between Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. We find here one of the purest depictions of friendship to be found, a relationship built entirely upon self-sacrifice, loyalty, brotherhood, and love. Frodo sacrifices everything for the sake of the common good, and Sam supports this sacrifice by supporting Frodo. Their friendship is summed up by Sam’s pained exclamation, “I can’t carry it (the ring) for you, but I can carry you”. Both keep their eyes on the good, and it sustains their friendship through the best and worst of times.
A final example of perfect friendship is that which existed between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. It was accepted by both that God desired the friendship, as St. Francis de Sales wrote, “It seems to me that God has given me to you”. Their friendship was based around St. Francis’ spiritual direction of St. Jane, and in this way, it is very easy to see that their friendship was ordered towards the highest good, which is a relationship with God. Theirs was truly a relationship Aristotle could have identified as a virtuous friendship.
Friendship is a beautiful relationship with so much to teach us. It can foster a spirit of chastity within us that lends itself to all of our relationships. Friendship is the opportunity to love someone for who they are, and it’s the opportunity to desire the best for them. If it’s true, they’ll be doing the same for you – and that is a gift beyond measure.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
– St. Thomas Aquinas