The Four Loves: Friendship

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

Now we turn to the second human love Lewis considers: philia (φιλία — friendship)

Even if you’ve gotten behind on the readings I encourage you to go through this chapter. While much has changed in the way we think about friendship nowadays (for instance, we value it more than did Lewis’s contemporaries), much has not. And the nature of friendship has changed not at all. Lewis’s insights will help you forge better friendships and be a better friend.

Three comments before we dive in:

On to the content! This is one of my favorite observations by Lewis:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. (page 783)

In case you were wondering, Charles is Charles Williams (a novelist, poet, and editor at Oxford University Press) and Ronald is J. R. R. Tolkien (yes — that Tolkien). They along with Lewis were the central members of a literary discussion group called the Inklings. They would read their writings aloud to one another and critique each other. If you’re ever in Oxford you can visit the pub they used to meet in — The Eagle and Child.

Back to the main topic. This idea of two friends bringing things out of each other that allow me to appreciate each of them more is beautiful, and Lewis’s theological application of it is one that I have found helpful when thinking about the glory of heaven:

…the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have. (page 783)

More practically, Lewis has some thoughts on how friendships begin:

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” (page 785)

This is one reason why college is so exhilarating. You have so many more peers than you did in high school that you can easily find people who share your interests. Your friendships in Chi Alpha especially have the potential to become so satisfying because you’ve already got your faith in common, and on top of that Stanford itself, and on top of that your experience of Chi Alpha instead of another Christian community, and if you add on top of that just one more thing like a certain sport or a specific fandom or a shared sense of humor then the odds that a significant friendship will form are quite high. 

Not everyone acquires those friendships, of course. Some respond by looking for friends. Lewis points out why looking for friends directly is often counterproductive:

That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise— though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers. (page 786)

So if you feel lonely — pursue something you’re interested in. And then chat with those around you who are engaged in the same pursuit. Friendship will often emerge. This will prove to be especially useful advice once you graduate and have to forge friendships without the aggressive help of Stanford Res Ed.

Lewis also addresses a perennial question among college students: can guys and girls can be just friends?

When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass—may pass in the first half-hour—into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later. (page 786)

Lewis is correct, and at this juncture I refer you to one of my favorite YouTube videos: Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends

Near the end of the chapter he gives us a helpful reminder:

…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for 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.” (pages 801–802)

Thank God for your friends!

Next week, romantic love…

Leave a Reply