Friendship with God

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That the just are in some sense friends of God is a dogma of faith defined by the Council of Trent (Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 1528, cf. 1535).

Scripture and the Fathers. Those individuals who are truly wise in the Old Testament sense, that is, those who perfectly observe God's law, are said to be the friends of God: "For to men she [Wisdom] is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them" (Wis 7.14). "And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; and passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets" (Wis 7.27). Accordingly, abraham (Jdt 8.22; cf. Jas 2.23) and moses (Ex 33.12) are called friends of God. In the New Testament Jesus calls His Disciples friends: "You are my friends if you do the things I command you. No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15.1415; cf. Lk 12.4).

The Fathers of the Church frequently point to Abraham and Moses as men who fulfilled God's will and so showed themselves to be friends of God. But they also extend the title to all Christians. Thus St. Hilary writes: "And indeed we know that Abraham was a friend to God. And the Law said that Moses was a friend to God. But the Gospels show that now many are friends of God" (In ps. 138, 38; Patrologia Latina 9:812). And St. Ambrose says: " charity makes a man a friend of God. Hence Christ says: 'But I call you friends"' (Ep. 37.23; Patrologia Latina 16:1090). Unlike the Hebrews, who considered friendship with God as the reward of a holy life, the Christian Fathers see it as a gratuitous election. Thus, St. Gregory the Great writes: "O how great is the mercy of our Creator! We are unworthy servants and are called friends. How great is the dignity of men to be friends of God" (Hom. in evang. 2.27.4; Patrologia Latina 76:1206). And St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: "What greater or more honorable thing can be said than to be called and to be a friend of Christ. For observe how much this dignity exceeds the bounds of human nature. For all things serve the Creator nor is there any created thing which is not subjected to Him by the yoke of servitude the Lord has raised the saints who keep His commandments to a superatural glory " [In Joan. evang. 10 (Jn 15.14), Patrologia Graeca 74:384; cf. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 4.13.4, Patrologia Graeca 7:1009; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.10, Patrologia Graeca 9:481; Athanasius, In ps. 138.17, Patrologia Graeca 27:534; Augustine, In ps. 131.6, Patrologia Latina 37:171819; In evang. Ioh. 85, Patrologia Latina 35:184850].

Both Sacred Scripture and the Fathers describe the just man's relationship with God in other terms, which imply a state of friendship. St. Paul says that Christ has broken down the enmity and has established peace between God and men, who have become "now no longer strangers and foreigners, but citizens with the saints and members of God's household (οκε[symbol omitted]οι)" (Eph2.1420). The image of spiritual nuptials is used as well to describe the relationship between God and His Church. Thus St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: "I betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor 11.2; cf. Eph 5.2232). The Fathers apply this symbol to the union between God and individual just souls. Basil of Ancyra, for instance, illustrates "the union of the rational soul with the divine Word by the union of marriage" (De virginitate 50; Patrologia Graeca 30:767). And St. Gregory of Nyssa interprets the Song of Songs as signifying a union of individual souls with God through charity (In cant. 1.1, Patrologia Graeca 44:763; cf. 6, ibid. 44:891). Other titles also employed by Scripture and the Fathers, such as "sons of god" and "brothers of Christ," imply a state of friendship.

Explanation of Theologians. In explaining the just man's friendship with God, theologians commonly have accepted the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas (In 3 sent. 27.1; C. gent. 4.19; In Dion. de div. nom. 4.9; Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 26.4; 65.5; and especially 2a2ae, 23.1). Their notion of friendship is borrowed from Aristotle, who derived it from reflection on the common experience of human friendship (Eth. Nic. 8.18). Friendship supposes a similarity of nature and a community of life and interests, and consists in a stable, mutually known, and reciprocal love of benevolence. Although Aristotle had excluded the possibility of friendship between the gods and men for the reason that there is no similarity or common bond between them, Catholic theologians deny the validity of his argument in the supernatural order: Thanks to the gifts of grace, the just man has been assimilated to God in a new, supernatural way, and through faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see holy spirit, gifts of) he can come to an imperfect but adequate knowledge of God, who communicates to him through revelation and to whom he can speak in prayer. Moreover, between God and man there exists a reciprocal love of benevolence. God loves the goodness of the just man inasmuch as it is a participation of His own divine goodness, and He wills good to man for man's own advantage; and the just man, in turn, loves God above all else for His own sake, thanks to the supernatural virtue of charity. What is more, this selfless love is mutually known, since God can read man's heart, and the just man knows God's love for him by faith and his own love for God by the testimony of a good conscience. And it is stable, not only on the part of God, as is evident, but also on the part of man, since through charity he chooses God as the ultimate end of his whole life and being. Accordingly, in an analogous, but nonetheless true and proper, sense the just man is a friend of God.

All Catholic theologians agree that friendship with God is in some way rooted in the gifts of sanctifying grace. The most common explanation is that friendship with God flows as a formal effect from the very nature of grace, although Lessius, Duns Scotus, and Ripalda hold that this state of friendship arises from grace only because of some extrinsic element, such as the free ordination, disposition, or promise of God.

Suárez and some modern theologians who follow him see the just man's friendship with God as the precise reason under which the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (see indwelling, divine) is to be understood. According to this theory, friendship demands the presence of the friend; hence, even if God were not already present by His immensity, He would come to be present with His friends because of His love for them. Therefore, they reason, the inhabitation of the Blessed Trinity in the soul of the just man consists precisely in this new presence of God as friend.

Ascetical Literature. Spiritual writers from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, such as Tauler, Suso, and the author of the imitation of christ, also speak of man's friendship with God. But their principal concern is not with friendship as the new relationship between God and man that is established by grace, but rather with man's growth in the spiritual life through the development and perfection of his friendship with Jesus, God incarnate. It is in this tradition that the author of the Imitation writes: "Many are His visits to the man of inward life. With such a one He holds delightful converse, greeting him with sweet comfort, much peace, and an intimacy astonishing beyond measure. Come then, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this your Spouse, so that He may vouchsafe to come to you and dwell within you"(2.1.12). "Love Him, and keep Him for your friend, who, when all go away, will not forsake you, nor suffer you to perish finally" (2.7.1; cf. 2.8.3). St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, through St. Francis de Sales and other modern writers after him down to St. Thérèse de Lisieux underline the just man's opportunity and responsibility to grow in God's friendship: "It is a horrible irreverence to Him who with so much love and sweetness invites us to perfection to say, 'I do not want to be holy, or perfect, or to have a greater share in your friendship, or to follow the counsels you give me to advance in it"' (St. Francis de Sales, On the Love of God 8.8; cf. 2.22; 3.13; 8.9).

Bibliography: r. egenter, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:110406. e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 2.2:222526. m. flick, De gratia Christi (Rome 1962) 342429. n. d. philippe, Le Mystère de l'amitié divine (Paris 1949). l. m. bond, "A Comparison between Human and Divine Friendship," Thomist 3 (1941) 5494. e. peterson, "Der Gottesfreund," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschicte 42 (1923) 161202.

[j. f. dedek]