Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: friendship

Friendship and Love

In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love?

Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally.” Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se),” that is, “I love you with my poor human love.” Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: “Kyrie, filo-se” – “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.” The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?” – “Do you love me?”

Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se).”

Pope Benedict XVI in The Apostles

This is an important passage and the analysis by Benedict XVI is very illuminating and it shows the value of careful attention to differences in language. Reliance on a particular translation – particularly if this is then converted into a literalist interpretation – is naive.

We also remember the wonderful four-fold analysis of Lewis in The Four Loves. Both Lewis and Benedict XVI both identify true Christian love with agape. Lewis argues that each of the other kinds of love is good, but that each of the lower forms of love, if it becomes exaggerated and loses the balance brought by obedience to virtue will become distorted.

  • Storge – affection can become obsessive and distorting, leading to prejudice.
  • Fileo – friendship can become clubbish, cliquish.
  • Eros – erotic love can be selfish and narcissistic.

For Lewis ‘agape’ is the ideal form of love, proper Christian love, which is universal, selfless and truthful. It does not exclude or dimish the other forms of love – it completes, balances and transforms them – this transformation can also require suffering.

But Benedict XVI makes the additional and necessary point – God will even accept the poorest versions of our love – he knows agape is often a stretch for human beings in all their weakness.

Machiavelli on Fair Weather Friends

I say that nobles should be considered chiefly in two ways: either they conduct themselves in such a way that they commit themselves completely to your cause or they do not. Those who commit themselves and are not greedy should be honoured and loved; those who do not commit themselves can be analysed in two ways. They act in this manner out of fear and lack of courage, in which case you should make use of them, especially those who are wise advisers, since in prosperous times they will gain you honour and in adverse times you need not fear them. But when, cunningly and influenced by ambition, they refrain from committing themselves to you, this is a sign that they think more of themselves than of you; and the prince should be wary of such men and fear them as if they were open enemies, because they will always, in adverse times, help to bring about his downfall.

Nicolo Machiavelli from The Prince

Machiavelli’s account of fair weather friends is of course true. We all know that popularity will wane and that, when times get tough, many who declare themselves friends will look to their own interests first. Perhaps the most subtle and challenging of fair weather friend will declare their loyalty privately while also explaining that they must avoid any undue public displays of loyalty ‘for your own sake’ and in order to win you support from your enemies. Such friends are effectively working as ‘double-agents’.

Christ tells us to love our enemies – but He also says we should be ‘as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents’. So any naivety about the motives of other humans – friends or enemies – is not appropriate. We must exercise responsibility to ourselves and to our affairs and watch for any threats. In particular, watch out for people who keep expressing their loyalty too often – and only in private. Few talk about loyalty unless they are considering an act of disloyalty.

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