Twenty-three centuries ago, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle gave us profound insights into the nature and nourishment of friendship in all its forms, foremost among them the intimate, virtuous friendships in which friends become “as one soul in two bodies.” Two centuries later, Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero left us a literary masterpiece of his own on the glories, benefits, and duties of friendships based on harmonious goodwill and benevolence. Thirteen centuries later, a young man, St. Aelred of Rievaulx, became enthralled with Cicero’s writings on friendship, and later, as a Cistercian abbot, wrote his own treatise on the subject, building upon Cicero’s sturdy treatment, but raising it to new, supernatural heights through the sweet exemplar of the spiritual friendship of Jesus Christ. Quite independently of St. Aelred, a century later the sublime Dominican philosopher and Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his treatise on charity, Christianized and elevated to heaven Aristotle’s teaching of the friendship of virtue as man’s friendship with God.
In The Four Friendships: From Aristotle to Aquinas we undertake to glean the lasting lessons of these four great friends of friendship. Aristotle wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics that “the object of our inquiry is not to know what virtue is but how to become good…” To this end we too will examine these four writings on friendship not merely as works of literature or historical curiosities, but as practical guides to help us build, maintain, and enjoy noble friendships of our own—today. The object of our inquiry, then, is not to know what friendship is but how to become good friends.