‘A Sturdy Shelter’: John Chrysostom on Ideal Friendship

 

Image: Huffington Post

I continue to trawl through historical Christian writings on the subject of friendship. Next up is a fascinating piece with an obscure origin. It claims to be a letter to John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, from his mother, Anthusa, entitled On Ideal Friendship. It would date to the final quarter of the 4th century.

What complicates matters is that Anthusa is nowhere referred to by any other Early Church writers as an ancient authority. Meanwhile, the bulk of the text of the letter can be found, almost verbatim, in various of Chrysostom’s own works, especially his Homilies. So we are probably looking at “John Chrysostom on Ideal Friendship”.

The letter is not long and most of it is eminently quotable. In this post I’ll look at the introduction and opening section. It speaks for itself.

The letter opens with a verse from the Apocrypha: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter,” [Ecclesiasticus 6:14a], and the comment: Though you were to name a thousand treasures, there is nothing comparable to a real friend. The first section is then devoted to the pleasure that true friendship brings.

A friend overflows when he sees his friend. He is united to him in a union that affords indescribable pleasure of the soul. If he merely thinks of him, he rises and is carried upwards in his mind. I speak of genuine friends, who are of one accord, of those who would choose to die for their friends, of those who love warmly.

A true friend is such that places and times are loved on his account. For, as shining objects shed a lustre upon the adjoining places, even so friends impart their own grace to the places they have been. And oftentimes, when standing in those places without our friends, we have wept and groaned, remembering the days when we were there together.

The writer notes that those who have known the beauty of such a depth of heart-friendship will instinctively understand this, but that such people are relatively few. “When (such friends) make a request of us, we are grateful to them, but when they are slow to ask, then we are sad. We have nothing which is not theirs. It would be better to live in darkness than to be without friends. And how can I say this? Because many who see the sun are yet in darkness.”

I speak of the spiritual friends who set nothing above friendship. Such was Paul, who would willingly have given his own soul, without having been asked, and would have willingly fallen into Hell for his brethren [Romans 9:3]. With so burning an affection is it proper to love. Take this as an example of friendship. Friends surpass fathers and sons, that is, friends according to Christ.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

About Trevor Saxby

I'm a mentor, friend to many, with a PhD in church history. I love learning from the 'movers and shakers' of the past, as I want to be one today!

8 responses to “‘A Sturdy Shelter’: John Chrysostom on Ideal Friendship”

  1. Jules says :

    inspiring stuff – 'Though you were to name a thousand treasures, there is nothing comparable to a real friend.' I have found this is true.

  2. Trevor Saxby says :

    Thanks for these comments 🙂
    Like Chrysostom, I wonder how many people actually get to taste the 'ineffability' of such pure heart bonds – which is immensely sad.

  3. Jason Scott says :

    Great post. Such an important and essential topic. Thx Trevor!

  4. Ian Lockhart says :

    O for such friends (friendship blooms like flowers in the spring, it cannot be forced, but is like the echo between two mountains…..g d Watson) I have found my friends in most unexpected places or to be the most unexpected people

  5. John Vagabond says :

    I was given this once: “There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence.”

    From the Wisdom literature. Sirach 6:15

    Glad you mentioned it but the whole passage is worth a read. As a matter of interest, the mosaic of John Chrysostom in Hagia Sofia looks anything but friendly.

Any comments?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: