“I Have Called You Friends”
An After-Dinner Conversation on Christian Friendship
by Addison H. Hart
[F]or a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” . . . At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests.
—C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I recall now two friends, who, although they have passed from this present life, nevertheless live to me and always will so live.
—St. Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, 3:119
Aristotle asked an interesting question regarding the limits of friendship.” This was spoken quietly over the empty plates. Dirk, a dog resembling a small black-and-white bear in the light, could not now be seen, except as a darker blur against the room’s shadows. He could be heard, however, in a corner, licking clean the meat platter that had considerately been placed on the floor for him. The only light came from two candles on the dining room table.
About the table sat four men. I was there, and my two friends, John and Jerome. The fourth man, the eldest, was wearing a black cassock, his hair and beard gray-white. This was Father Haire, and we were visiting him in the Hermitage.
Outdoors, night had fallen, a chill wind was blowing through the leafless woods nearby, and a wet snow was coming down. Indoors, all was relaxed and comfortable. The meal was concluded, but we still sat with glasses of wine and a half-full bottle, and still another uncorked, before us.
Father Haire was the chaplain for the convent on the hilltop. To visit the grounds of this convent from time to time, where the chaplain’s Hermitage was located, was to experience the intimation that we had stepped into another world. To be here was to leave the world “out there,” to be some place else, a place that had the atmosphere of the ancient and ageless.
Jerome, John, and I had become well acquainted with Father Haire, and we enjoyed our occasional meals and conversations with him. He enjoyed playing the host, and we benefited by moving him to share his spiritual thoughts.
Somehow we had gotten onto the topic of Christian friendship. It was a subject that interested us longstanding friends, because our friendship had begun with Christ firmly at the center of our mutual attention. Jerome, John, and I belonged, in fact, to a much larger circle of friends, all of whom had come to faith in Christ as teenagers.
Some of us were now Catholics (like myself), others Orthodox (John and Jerome), still others Evangelicals and Anglicans. All of us held convictions we believed vitally important, which divided us between our various churches on Sundays, and yet our Christ-centered friendship remained strong. That fact intrigued us all, especially since we knew our bond was due to a common orthodox adherence to our Lord—the living and true Jesus, God and man. Not for us the tepid commissions, the platitudinous documents, the watered-down doctrine, the simpering and posturing we associated with the institutional ecumenical movement (not that we ever gave it much thought). Ours was precisely and naturally an ecumenism of friendship: We enjoyed meals, wine, beer, smoking, laughter, and argument. . . .
Addison H. Hart is retired from active ministry as parish priest and university chaplain. He is the author of Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God and The Yoke of Jesus: A School for the Soul in Solitude (both from Eerdmans). His forthcoming book is a study of the Sermon on the Mount. He lives and writes in Norheimsund, Norway.
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