Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This book uproots the notion that the early Church Fathers were rigid and stayed, they are not! Their friendship is at the heart of the Gospel. It was the way to salvation and the most effective means of evangelization. God had taken flesh in order to befriend mankind. Jesus had called his Apostles friends. The first Christians, in turn, spread salvation through friendships of their own. Evangelizing the world was done through one friend bringing another into the Church – where both could be friends with God.
The text brings together for the first time, the Fathers’ doctrine and stories of friendship – mostly in their own words. You’ll meet many giants of the early Church including:
Minucius Felix, and walk with him as he brings a pagan friend to faith
Sts Basil and Gregory, best friends from school whose friendship was shattered and then restored
St. Ambrose, who encouraged his clergy to cultivate strong friendships.
St. Augustine, whose grief for a lost friend led him to profound insights
St Rabanus Mauris, the great biblical commentator and write of hymns, whose counsels on friendship have never before appeared in English.
Friendship and the Fathers is not a romanticized account of friendship. Even the saints fought. And yet through it all, they bestow to us an icon of what friendship in Christ means. This work of friendship, as the author argues, is integral to evangelization in our age.
The story in Genesis uses “figurative language”, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it (390), to show us the true state of our relationship with God. It’s broken us the true state of our relationship with God. We could have been God’s friend, but when we follow our own way – as Adam and Eve did—we can’t have that kind of friendship with God. Yet that’s the friendship God really wants to have with us. We see glimpses of it later in the Old Testament. Extraordinary individuals came close to the ideal. Abraham “was called the friend of God” (Jas 2:23) He was confident enough to haggle with God over the destruction of Sodom talking him down from fifty righteous inhabitants to ten (see Gen. 18:20-33). Exous tells us that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11)
And while the Fathers work their way into our hearts, perhaps they can begin to reach is the cure for our loneliness. After all, the problems of our day are not too different from the problems of their day. Their lives were busy. They lived in an uncertain world of big cities, massive bureaucracies, and constant change. They had big problems. But they found the time for friendship. They made the time for friendship with God. There is one thing that the Fathers agree on: friendship takes work. It’s a warning to us; we can’t be lazy and expect to have friends. But it’s also a message if hope. With God’s grace giving us the power of friendship, we can overcome our loneliness. We can be the friends we ought to be and have the friends we want to have. And we can do it because God Himself has called us friends.