Classical, Patristic, and Medieval Models
of Friendship and Spiritual Guidance


 Menas & Christ, 7th c. Coptic ion

FAMILIARITY with classical and early Christian treatises on friendship is essential to any study of Christian spiritual guidance. We turn to three classical sources on friendship, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero; and four Christian authors, Ambrose, Cassian, Gregory the Great, and Aelred of Rievaulx. 

THE fundamental discussion of friendship, on which all other classical treatises depend, is found in Books 8-9 of Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics. We will look only at Book 8, and also briefly at a short text on friendship from Plato’s dialogue Lysis.

THE western (Latin-speaking) world generally received Aristotles insights through their restatement and adaptation by Cicero in his treatise On Friendship, (Laelius de Amicitia). This book was widely-read in the Christian West and constantly used (as we shall see) as a source-text on friendship by patristic and medieval authors.

AMBROSE of Milan offers a very condensed summary and Christian adaptation of Cicero in his De Officiis; while John Cassian in his Sixteenth Conference particular emphasizes the dangers to friendship posed by unrestrained or inappropriately-expressed anger.

THE medieval world particularly treasured Gregory the Greats definition of a friend as custos animæ, the guardian of ones soul. He offers a vivid depiction of this role in the latter part of the Life of Benedict, recounted in Book 4 of his Dialogues.

THE most enduring medieval treatises on friendship are Aelred of Rievaulx The Mirror of Charity and On Spiritual Friendship, from which we shall study brief selections.

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