The early church theologian Augustine is well known for his theological contributions, but he is also notable for his views on friendship. Friendship was very meaningful to Augustine. In fact, one writer said that Augustine is the first person to think of and to give us a theology of friendship. He often liked to quote the famous line from Cicero, who defined friendship as “agreement with kindliness and affection about things human and divine.” Augustine believed this, and throughout most of his life he would quote this when he was writing to good friends. But later in his life, he added a little bit of a twist to this definition of friendship. But before we get to his definition, let’s talk about some of the friends that are in Augustine’s life.
First there was Alypius. They grew up not too far from each other, although Augustine was a little bit older. Alypius was one of Augustine’s early students, and he followed Augustine on his journey from North Africa, first to Rome and then to Milan. It was in the gardens of Milan that Augustine was converted, and Alypius was converted at the same time. They were baptized on the same day by the same person––Ambrose, the famous bishop of Milan. Then they went into the priesthood together, and they were even bishops together in neighboring bishoprics, Augustine at Hippo and Alypius at Thagaste, their hometown. Not only were they converted together and friends together and bishops together, but they actually died about the same time. As Augustine’s life drew to a close, the Roman Empire was crumbling, as Rome had been sacked in 410 by the Visigoths and Hippo itself was being sacked by the Vandals in 430. Augustine died during the sack of Hippo and Alypius died around the same time in Thagaste. This was a friendship that spanned their entire lives and careers.
Another of Augustine’s friends is mentioned in his Confessions. But we don’t know his name. This friend that pursued philosophy as Augustine (and Alypius) had, and looked to the Manicheans (an early group of thinkers that combined neo-Platonism and Christianity into a body of secret, esoteric knowledge). This friend was then converted to Christianity out of Manichaeism, and he had even expressed his testimony of his conversion to Augustine. But then he died. Augustine—at this point not yet converted—was profoundly affected, and he wrote about the effect of this friend’s death in his Confessions. So impactful was this friend’s death that Augustine couldn’t even bring himself to name his friend.
The friendship that matters for us is our friendship with God. One more friend of Augustine is Marcianus. Near the end of his life, Augustine found out that Marcianus, a friend from his youth, had become a Christian. This thrilled Augustine, and he wrote to his friend, in one of the last letters that he wrote. Marcianius’s conversion caused Augustine to think about a definition of friendship. He again quoted Cicero that friendship is “agreement with kindliness and affection about things humans and divine,” but then he added, “in Christ Jesus our Lord who is our real peace.” This was Augustine’s definition of true friendship: we are united to one another as friends through our union with Christ. And ultimately, Augustine says, the friendship that matters for us is our friendship with God.