What is friendship? Why is it important and why is it worth cultivating? These axiomatic questions form a significant part of the thought and writing of C. S. Lewis. In a letter to his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis touched upon the heart and meaning of friendship:
The First [Universal Friend] is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops in the window.
In similar vein, in his novel The Man Who was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton wrote of the necessity of friendship as the balm which heals the fractured heart of humanity:
Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.
The words of Lewis and Chesterton point to the fundamental need of all of us for friendship, the origins of which go right back to the beginning of history, to the first man in the first Garden who desired the first friend. Eve was necessary for Adam precisely because she was his alter ego. She does not merely reveal to him that he is not alone in the world; nor does she merely bridge the abyss between isolation and having one ally. More important than these two fundamental necessities of human life, she shows Adam that he is not all that there is. It’s not all about him. His egocentrism is challenged by her existence. She is his alter ego because she literally alters his ego, turning him out from himself so that he can see the beauty of the other, of that which is beyond himself. She allows him to cease being selfish and to embrace the selflessness which is the heart and dynamic of love.
The tragedy at the heart of the human story has its roots in the very same Garden in which we find the first friendship. When Adam and Eve refuse the challenge of friendship, refusing to allow the alter ego to alter the ego, choosing instead the radical refusal of friendship which theologians call Pride, the choosing of oneself over the other, we have the primal fracture which continues to manifest itself in our fractured age. The reason that we need to cultivate friendship in a fractured age is that the fracture is caused by the absence of friendship. Every true friendship is a healing of the fractured heart of human society.
Ultimately, however, the heart of true friendship goes much deeper than any human friendship. It is to be found in its source. True friendship in its fullest and most perfect form is God Himself. Human friendship, the love between people, is the very imago Dei in which we are made.
In 2014, the late Michael Novak wrote of Fr. Matthew Lamb, the great theologian who went to his reward on January the twelfth this year, that he had “passed along to others his own contemplation in the presence of the Love of the Holy Trinity, where all theology begins.” It is also in the presence of the Love of the Trinity that all friendship begins; and it is to this very same Triune Love that all friendship leads and in which it ends. The Trinity is friendship’s alpha and omega.
Republished with gracious permission from the Eighth Day Institute (January 2018).
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Jonathan Lovingly Taketh His Leave of David.” Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872).