When we introduced our CCE Corner earlier this year, we began by sharing some lessons we have learned through starting a Christian classical school. We had made our way through lesson 9, when all our attention was abruptly turned in another direction by the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine may seem a strange time for a lesson about friendship, but perhaps it provides a good opportunity to step back and think about our relationships.
Lesson 10. Make Hallelujah friends: finding joy in Christian classical community
Our previous CCE Corner about the joy of worship was titled, “We Were Made for This.” We could use that title again. After God created Adam, he said it was not good for man to be alone. He created Eve from Adam’s side to be his friend. In a dialogue on Spiritual Friendship, the medieval monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, observes, “How beautiful it is that the second human being was taken from the side of the first, so that nature might teach that human beings are equal and, as it were, collateral, and that there is in human affairs neither a superior nor an inferior, a characteristic of true friendship. Hence, nature from the very beginning implanted the desire for friendship and charity in the heart of man, a desire which an inner sense of affection soon increased with a taste of sweetness.” In other words, we were made for friendship.
Aelred goes on to discuss the nature of true friendship. While Greek philosophers like Aristotle, and Roman orators like Cicero, articulate admirable ideals for friendship based in virtue, even such friendships fall short of true friendship. Aelred expresses the essence of true friendship in the opening lines to his dialogue, “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst.” Central to true friendship is a bond in Christ. Later, he writes, “For what more sublime can be said of friendship, what more true, what more profitable, than that it ought to, and is proved to, begin in Christ, continue in Christ, and be perfected in Christ?” Aelred paints a lovely image of Christian friends as a “guardians” of one another’s spirits—loyally preserving each other’s deepest cares and thoughts, curing and enduring any defects they observe in each other, rejoicing with each other in joy and weeping with each other in sorrow, and “loving at all times.”
That is indeed a “sublime” way to talk about friendship. Another way to think about it is the following.
I once heard a minister talk about the meaning of the word, “Hallelujah”. The word is a command. It means “Praise God!” But it also carries the sense of doing this together. This minister said to think of it as “Y’all, Hallelujah!” He then talked about the special joy praising God together can bring, and he illustrated it with the example of going to the latest Star Wars movie with a friend who had never seen any of the other films. While it might be nice to introduce someone to the series, it’s just not the same as going with a friend who shares your Star Wars obsession. Which made me think more about friendship—it’s just not the same with people who don’t share your deepest loves. In our house, we refer to those who share our deepest loves as our “Hallelujah friends.”
Aelred says something similar (without the Star Wars analogy): “And so, spiritual friendship among the just is born of a similarity in life, morals, and pursuits, that is, it is a mutual conformity in matters human and divine united with benevolence and charity.” In other words, Hallelujah friendships are those friendships with a shared vision of what matters in life, of what is good, true, and beautiful, combined with genuine affection and acts of love and service toward one another.
Throughout history, human beings have given all sorts of relationships the title “friendship.” In addition to the highest form of friendship, friendships for virtue, Aristotle discussed friendships for pleasure (e.g., mutual entertainment) and friendships for utility (e.g., networking). Aelred divides friendships into those that are spiritual (e.g., sharing in faith), carnal (e.g., sharing in vice), and worldly (mutual pursuit of achievement or gain). The ancients and medievals tended to categorize friendships according to the type of activity pursued. We moderns tend to categorize them according to level of intimacy: e.g, best friend, friend, acquaintance, facebook friend. However we choose to categorize relationships, it is good to ask about the impact a friendship has on one’s character. What is common to all forms of friendship is the delight we have in the sharing, but at times we should step back and ask: Are the activities and the sharing in this relationship making me a better person? Are they bringing me closer to God or further away? What fruit does the friendship bear?
It is our hope that the Trinitas community helps each of you to cultivate Hallelujah friendships. And, it is our prayer for our graduating eighth grade students especially that they would seek and find such friends as they enter high school. We were made for friendship, and this time of separation has been hard on us all. Still, our God of mercy can draw us closer to each other and to him in ways we may not yet have imagined. And, when this crisis is over, it will be a sweet joy to be together again face to face.
In our next CCE Corner, we have one final bonus lesson that goes back to what impressed us about classical education in the first place.