I started reading about friendship a few years ago. My readings ranged from Aristotle’s three levels of friendship in Nicomachean Ethics
, Cicero’s On Friendship
, Augustine’s Confessions
, Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship
to a personal study on friendships in the Bible.1
I hoped that I was a friend to those whom providence arranged. Friendship nourishes me, although the disappointments and pains are sometimes difficult to bear. Who is a friend, and how do we nurture friendships? While I am more of an interdisciplinary theologian, like many members in the American Society of Church History, I rejoice in the richness that history could proffer. In this article, I present a contemporized and analogous reading of Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship
Aelred postulates the benefits of deep friendship whilst being aware of the perils of relational problems, and in that sense, his thoughts challenge superficial friendships in our day. May this essay encourage us in finding true connection with friends.
2. Aelred of Rievaulx’s (1110-1167) Spiritual Friendship
This twelfth-century English-Scottish Cistercian abbot from Hexham, Northumbria, who was formerly a steward of King David I of Scotland and a member of the nobility class, examined friendship from a religious standpoint. Aelred is better remembered for The Mirror of Charity (written between 1142-43 at the invitation of Bernard of Clairvaux to educate the Cistercian life), although readers of Aelred would consider him a historian, theologian, philosopher, monastic spirituality writer, and politician.3 In this retrieval, I limit my exploration to his Spiritual Friendship, which was written between 1163-64, though Book 1 was originally written in the late 1140s.4
Aelred’s primary sources are Scripture, the Church Fathers, and experience together with Cicero’s philosophical dialogue On Friendship.5 Book 1 records his discussion with Ivo, a daughterhouse of Rievaulx, Wardon of Bedfordshire. And Book 2 and 3 detail his conversations several years later with two younger monks in the monastery, Walter (believed to be Walter Daniel, his biographer) and Gratian; the later dialogues expand on Aelred’s earlier dialogue with Ivo, to show “an ever-widening circle of fellowship,” and friendship’s inseparability even after death (because for Aelred, true friendship is eternal).
Please note that this investigation does not follow a recent controversial reading of Aelred’s sexual orientation.6 My primary reasons are as follows: Aelred wrote Spiritual Friendship for those committed to a Cistercian lifestyle, and would live in accordance to the Benedictine monastic rules for holy living.7
Hence, I find it unfruitful to probe between the Scylla of Aelred’s formal literary expressions on friendship, and the Charybdis of psychologizing the saint’s motives, feelings, and sexual-state in order to prove a speculative interpretation of Aelred’s sexuality that has no strong admitting evidence. Reinterpretations of a supposed sexual attraction to maleness in The Life of Ninian, and in his eulogy to Henry, son of King David in 1153, must be located in the context of the Cistercian monastic spirituality. Moreover, he often decried the hypocrisies of courtly and monastic promiscuity: it sufficiently demonstrates that for the abbot, chastity, i.e., the purity in the inner sanctum of his soul, is his motto for life, as evidenced also in The Mirror of Charity and A Rule of Life for the Recluse.8
Book I explores the origins and types of friendship. Aelred identifies three types of post-lapsarian (after the Fall) friendship: carnal, worldly, and spiritual friendship.9 Common to all types of friendships, friendship in post-lapsarian terms would manifest charity/love in its universal extent to all people, including enemies.10
Also, common to all, humans desire love and companionship, and the happiness friendship brings.11 However, true friendship is reserved for only a select few: one can only maintain bona fide friends and open our hearts unreservedly to a few.12 Carnal connections on the other hand are ruled by transitory pleasures (with concupiscence as its root), and hence their rapports are more inclusive and these relationships seldom last (as compared to genuine friendship).13
Worldly associates seek only temporal advantage for oneself; they seldom exhibit genuine interest in the other person’s well-being.14 These lesser friendships steer each other towards inordinate desires, and could not endure troubles together.15 The glue to their companionship is charm for the greedy, glory for the ambitious, and pleasure for the sensuous, although they resemble the beauty of reciprocal friendship.16
These worldly friendships are counterfeits of true friendship since they regard “friendship as a trade” and for what are temporally useful to them.17 Worldly friendship, like carnal friendship, will not last.18 And because “the love of such a man is acquired at a small price,” their friendship disappears “at the slightest offense” or trouble.19 Aelred calls carnal and worldly relations as “apparent friends,” and distinguishes it from “true friends.”20
On the other hand, true amicitia (friendship) rests on a virtue that unites the spirits of both (or more) through an unbreakable bond of amor (love) and interior sweetness (making them one); the bond is their respective and mutual fellowship together in Christ – beginning, continuing, and perfecting in Christ together.21 True friends (amicus) are each other’s “guardian of love”; they preserve secrets faithfully, endure each other’s weaknesses, and share with a friend’s joys and sorrows as his/her own.22 From St. Jerome, the abbot affirms that true friends love at all times, and offenses do not injure their love and bond.23 True friends are not accomplices in evil/wicked activities; this is because the love between true friends does not seek lusts that defile, avarices that dishonor, and luxuries that pollute.24
True friendship is its own reward, and any other benefits are secondary.25 Essentially, true friends love each other’s soul as one’s own. The foundations are pure intention, and the exercise of cardinal virtues; they cherish the feeling of sweetness, seek each other’s perfection, reject nothing expedient, accept nothing unbecoming, and grow together in prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and “it will never cease to be properly ordered.”26 Their bond is rooted in chastity and wisdom. If the relationship is not between equals (e.g., between a wealthy and a less wealthy, or an accomplished person and an ordinary person), then the stronger or wiser of the friend will seek to diminish himself/herself before the other: they unite in their genuine desire to live a chaste and charitable life that is close to God.27
Book II discusses the fruits and excellence of friendship. For the Rievaulx abbot, the key to true friendship during their life on earth is intimacy with God. Of the many fruits of friendship, friends celebrate and share their kindred-ship forever. Even if a friendship is separated by death, Aelred confesses that he still thinks about his deceased friend Ivo, and in that sense, Ivo continues to dwell with him.28 The kinship attests to “nothing more pleasant than [the fruit of] spiritual friendship.”29 Agreeing implicitly with Sirach 6:14-16, Aelred affirms that friendship is like “medicine for life”: a faithful friend (amicus fidelis) helps one endure life’s sorrows, cultivates virtues, overcomes vice, and shares good and bad times, and leads one to the love and knowledge of God.30
Using the metaphor of a threefold kiss to symbolize a corporeal, spiritual, and mystical exchange of breath, Aelred explains the dynamics when people become close friends: they will experience physical intimacy (not in sexual terms, and definitely not to be misused for unwholesome purposes). As their spirits mingle, they will share “the kiss of spiritual breath,” i.e., the exchange of life and grace, desiring the good of the other, and sensing intimate affectivity of the heart (not avarice, inordinate desires, or the contact of the mount/lips): the Holy Spirit superintends their relationship.31 The bond is sweet and secure, and the bond is characterized by honor, truth, and holiness.32 This “spiritual kiss” of the affective hearts between close friends emerges from the sweetness of “the kiss of Christ,” permanently re-orientating all earthly affection.33
As to the limits of friendship, i.e., “what one should or should not do for a friend,” Aelred postulates that friends will give their lives for each other because they esteem each other higher than themselves, and hence, they will deny and refuse nothing to the other.34 He draws his inspiration from the Johannine Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus on friendship (that he lays down his life for his friends); and he limits true friends to only the gathering of the good, and not the wicked.35 Here, the abbot goes beyond Cierco’s definition of friendship as a mutual harmony of wills.36
Now, he does not restrict the good company to only the gathering of perfect people; however, they must be among those who have conquered their vices and resists temptations.37 They would be living well-ordered lives although they had chosen wayward lifestyles previously.38 Also, friends do not have to think about “mutual repayment of one’s friend through service and compliments” because they ought to have held all things in common and in one mind and soul.39 They mutually appreciate each other, and do not take one other for granted, or for advantage.
Aelred explains that reciprocal love is the “fountain and source of friendship.” Unlike love without friendship, friendship cannot exist without love.40 Thus, seeds of love must be carefully watered, tended, and grown for friendship to blossom.41 Love proceeds from nature, duty, reason, and affection.42 And yet, there is a kind of love that extends to all people, but friendship-love is reserved only for those admitted as friends.43 Consequently, he proposes in Book III the necessity of choosing friends judiciously, and only to admit as friends those who have been tested.44 Even as friendship attests to God’s grace in calling and uniting the hearts, friends must still cooperate with the grace to nurture and protect the relationship.
once admitted, he should be so borne with, so treated, [and] so deferred to, that as long as he does not withdraw irrevocably from the established foundation, he is yours, and you are his, in body [not sexually but intended as presence and love] as well as in spirit, so that there will be no division of minds, affections, wills, [and/] or judgments.45
With that in mind, Book III discusses the four stages of progress/development in friendship: 1) selection and dissolution (especially of friends who was later discovered to be less than virtuous), 2) probation, 3) admission, and 4) cultivation of friendship.
In the selection stage, Aelred prefers friends who lead virtuous lives.46 They would possess attributes of loyalty, patience, well-intention, giving and receiving, discerning and listening, and supportive whilst willing to challenge your thoughts because friends walk in each other’s “light and darkness.” Restriction of friendship-love applies only when a friend acts inappropriately, with a bent for evil.47 Otherwise, in all imperfections – “minor lapses and imperfections of character”, we bear with friends: he lists a few examples such as a thoughtless word, a zeal that does not demonstrate discretion, a sword drawn at a friend, anger, a temporal withdrawal, or a preference for his own counsel to yours.48 Aelred reasons why the forbearance: As friends, “their affection toward us is established with certainty,”49 unless there was question of dishonor, confidence violated, or virtue lessened.50
Moreover, because no one is perfect, the criterion for friendship is their desire for godliness and by implication, their efforts to conquer vices and resist temptations.51 Aelred also explains that the presence of disturbances/imperfections would amplify their virtues more laudably if they have exercised restrain over these passions; and hence, there is no need to withhold friendship from them.52 And if we must correct them, Aelred suggests doing so “painlessly and even pleasantly” and out of love.53
He further recommends distancing from people who practice evil habits.54 Those habits and behaviors (that are detrimental to forming lasting friendships) would include slander, reproach, pride, the disclosing of secrets, and the possession of secret detractions.55 Furthermore, one would better avoid the quarrelsome and those who give in to excessive anger, fickleness, suspiciousness, and loquaciousness.56 Choosing these people as potential friends is feasible only if they repent from the above vices.57
Stained glass detail in Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, showing Rievaulx Abbey
If a friendship has to be dissolved for unavoidable and compelling reasons, the process must be gradual, respectful, and approached with dignity, so as not to strain the feelings of both parties. Aelred calls the process, “to unstitch little by little” in order to prevent the surge of animosity and dishonorable effects due to the estrangement.58 True friendship will not allow any injury done to cause the relationship to recede.59 Still, if a former friendship incurs ill-will and enmity as a result of the dissolution, one must honor the former friend, by enduring insults as much as possible.60 More importantly, one is still bound to love a former friend at all times, even after the withdrawal.61 The abbot includes, “be concerned as much as you can for his welfare, safeguard his reputation, and never betray the secrets of his friendship, even though he should betray yours.”62
What then distinguishes the acts of love to a former and an existing friend? The Abbot explains that a friendship contains four elements: love, affection, security, and happiness.63 After a dissolved friendship, confidence, affection, security, and happiness in the friend are normally withdrawn, but a friend should still love, honor, bless, do good, aid, and advise the former friend as Christ would.64 The only exception is when the love for the former friend will result in the ruin/death of many, or “when he continued to be an occasion of ruin and scandal to those for whose well-being you are responsible, especially when the infamy of these crimes is damaging to your own good name.”65 Otherwise, it “is the more laudable, and gives greater proof of being a virtue” to bless those who wrong, scorn, curse, and plot evil against his former friend.66
In the probation stage, Aelred recommends testing would-be friends “in small and great matters.”67 The probation stage is crucial because once admitted into the friendship, we lay our soul and heart transparently to our friends, with “no hiding of thoughts, no dissembling of affection,” and the sharing of “our confidences and plans.”68 It is thus important not to merely test the four qualities of a friend – loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience,69 but also to distinguish the wise from the unwise.70 The periods of testing require that the one who ‘secretly’ administers the test, exercise prudence and holds back one’s affection.71 The loyalty of a friend always sees the heart of a friend.72 Loyal friends do not betray one another. Misfortune is the best way to prove the fidelity of a friendship: in adversity, we discover friends who are there not for our prosperity.73
On right intention, truly loving a friend expects no reward in return. The love ought to be given gratuitously, and not for some advantage or mercenary benefit.74 Discretion pertains to how friends offer correction, especially at the petty faults – do they impatiently bear these lapses without regard to the venue, season, and fittingness to the person? To befriend those with discretion will minimize unnecessary controversies and quarrels with them.75 What appears different for Aelred is the test of patience – he suggests that one ought not to immediately withdraw the prospect of friendship with the teachable, even if there are displays of impatience, such as indiscreet rebuke, desire for temporal gain, over passing due gentleness, or thoughtless revelation of some confidences.76 When the test is complete, and when admitted to the friendship, one should never question the loyalty of one’s friend.77
At the admission of a friend, the abbot recommends building mutual loyalty as their foundation, and cultivating qualities such as stability, constancy, honesty/frankness, congeniality, and sympathy.78 Friends do not become suspicious of each other. Instead, they are to foster trust, affability, cheerfulness, good manners, and peace/ease.79 Recognizing the importance of treating each other as equals, Aelred further recommends that those in higher positions should descend to their friends’ levels, and those from lower levels to ascend with their confidence.80 David and Jonathan provide one such example from Scripture: Jonathan preferring his friendship to his kingdom (already a remarkable virtue since it is in man to naturally desire power) is contrasted with Saul, who would injure Jonathan, his own son, for his own throne.81
David and Jonathan, depicted in La Somme Le Roy (circa 1300)
Finally, to foster the friendship, Aelred urges that one seek only what is honorable (be it from, or for the friendship), and preferably without being asked, and never to deny serving a friend, be it in money or otherwise.82 Revere each other since respect is friendship’s “greatest adornment.”83 Care, pray, and rejoice more readily.84 Seek the ultimate good of the other; regard the betterment of the other as one’s own progress.85 Always give cheerfully in anticipation of each other’s needs without being asked, and keep the confidences and dignity of the recipient of grace, and never expect a reward.86 Citing approvingly of Ambrose, Aelred calls friends to admonish the erring friend with love and reason, with humility and sympathy, and with much patience; Aelred prefers the aforementioned to reproaching with anger, bitterness, and/or harshness, or that of withholding correction in order to preserve a false and tenuous peace.87
The only exceptions are knowing when to correct in certain circumstances (he calls it dissimulation), as well as to refrain from deceptively agreeing to everything (he calls it simulation).88 And if one holds a position of power (e.g., an office), be sure to recommend promotion/appointment to an incumbent only because he/she is a worthy candidate, and not merely because of the friendship: Aelred believes that recommending a friend who does not have the ability to excel in the job, does a disservice to a friend.89
3. Contemporizing Aelred on Friendship
3.1. Difficulties. Brian McGuire attributes the ease with which modern people can contemporize medieval concepts of friendship to the universality of friendship as a human experience.90 However, to contemporize an Aelredian reading on friendship is not without difficulty, especially if we seek analogous applications to the prevailing norms of sociality and friendship, and avoid reading him anachronistically. James McEvoy elucidates in Friendship in Medieval Europe that Christian thinkers from the fourth century onwards (including Aelred) perpetuates, albeit selectively with, pre-Christian philosophical ideas on friendship.91 That means, we would have to juxtapose a receiving audience (and its culture) with medieval thoughts as we contemporize Aelred on friendship.
Specifically, if Aelred spoke to monks living in a cloistered communal life, could we simply transpose Aelred’s principles for modern people seeking platonic male-female or even same gender friendships in a cosmopolitan workplace, and in an overtly sexualized, commercialized, and technologically savvy world as ours (especially for those who live in ‘developed’ civilizations)? Likewise, the concept of platonic male-female and male-male, or female-female friendship in Aelred’s time differs markedly from the nuances of romance understood in our day, especially because of the subjugation of women and their rights to a predominantly patriarchal medieval social institution.92
3.2. Prospects. Without reading him anachronistically, I believe that Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship provides resources for cultivating friendship-bond in our milieu. What follows is a concise attempt at contemporizing lessons learnt from an Aelredian love.
What is the nature of friendship? Friendship occurs in varying degrees of affectivity and connectivity; and with each friendship brings love, companionship, and happiness. More importantly, Aelred deems that there are three types of friends, each motivated by a corresponding drive for carnality, worldly benefit, and/or spiritual virtue respectively. The nature of these relations will vary accordingly: carnal friends towards pleasure and concupiscence, worldly friends towards what has advantage and utility to them, and spiritual/virtuous friends towards what is truly good and beautiful for each other. The latter is reserved for only a select few, and in Aristotle’s view, for true and virtuous friends, we give superabundance of love to them.93
What distinguishes a confidant from all other relationships? A virtuous friend is most ideal for a confidant-relationship. He/she is someone whom you could bare your soul, heart, and mind to, without fear. True friendship is guided by loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. And because they love you as they would love themselves, they will desire the greatest good for you. On that account, they will be truthful and practice dissimulation – correcting you at the right time, and in light of particular circumstances, with love, reason, and much patience, humility, and empathy (note: Aelred uses the term sympathy). They will not practice simulation, that is, deceptively agreeing with you so as to preserve a false and tenuous harmony. And unlike what Aristotle calls, Utility friends or Pleasure friends, true friends will not leave you in your troubles if and when your friendship has no benefit/advantage.94 And since true friends seek virtues, they will not steer you to satisfy inordinate desires, believed to be harmful.
What are the boundaries of friendships? To other people, Christ models that we give ourselves so far as “to lay down our lives” and “love at all times” and thus prove that we love God and neighbor. To former friends as with enemies, we are still commanded to love and support them, even though we would withhold confidence and affection. But to a true friend, we give unreservedly since “a friend loves at all times.” To a true friend, we hide nothing, deny nothing, betray nothing, suspect nothing, dishonor nothing, yield everything, forebear everything, honor everything, and expect no other benefits because friendship is its reward. In other words, Aelred has no boundaries for true friends, because true friends by definition and in practice, will invariably seek out that which is true, good, and honorable for reciprocal growth and development, and they will not take advantage of us. Here, Aelred negotiates between two traditions in Eastern monasticism – Abba Arsenius who turned away friendship for solitude, and Abba Moses who found God and peace through friends.95
b. Marriage, Platonic, and Other
Would friendship outside of marriage flourish, or is confidante reserved for marriage? Aelred does not specifically speak to this question. The abbot wrote in the context of monastic and communal relationship. Still, it is reasonable to postulate that he could affirm the flourishing of friendships in several contexts, all at the same time. In his letters, he wrote of deep and committal friendships with a few monks, and these friendships were developed independently of each other, and even though all of these monks lived together in community (cf. Books 2 and 3). In specific instances, he widens the circles of friendship to include Walter and Gratian. And of course, in Aelred’s treatise, he would not have developed any concept close to seventeenth century Jeremy Taylor’s expression of marriage as “the Queen of friendships.”96
Is relational intimacy to be encouraged in light of Eastern monastic warnings? The Eastern monastic tradition warns of the possibility of platonic male-female relationship developing in sexually inappropriate ways under the guise of friendship. It also has strict codes against male-male attachments for similar concerns. Viewed thus, Aelred would have had reservations about deep male-female and male-male friendships. Still, his familiarity with the wholesome and engaging inter-mural relationships between Christian monks and nuns of his time and before his time would probably not preclude him from affirming a more circumspective level of platonic relationships. Here, I draw from a range of data to offer a conjecture.
Whilst mindful of the traps of eros (as a sexual problem), Aelred did not show that relational intimacy would inevitably become romantic/eros. Yes, in A Rule of Life for the Recluse, he warns sisters in a celibate lifestyle from forming deep emotional bonds with any man and away from friendly tenderness that would lead to open sexual release.97 The concern arises from his familiarity with promiscuous sexual relationships both in the courts and in the monastic communities, as well as the Eastern and Egyptian Christian monastic traditions (such as Anthony, Pachomus, Cassian, and the Desert Fathers), which warned against sensual love between older monks and younger monks, and/or with the opposite gender.
Cassian’s Conferences XVI contained specific warnings against lustful thoughts, subversive dreams, bodily vices, and nocturnal emissions; all of which would suggest the wisdom of keeping a distance from attractive relationships both outside and within the monastery, for both male-male, and male-female relationships.98 And since Benedict’s monastic rule in this respect was drawn from Cassian on rightly ordered love, and since the Cistercian Order, which Aelred has devoted himself, observes the Benedictine Rule, Aelred was clearly not naïve about the perils of sexual temptations.
I would offer a further conjecture that Aelred would remain open to platonic relationship. Aelred readily draws from Ambrose of Milan and Jerome’s wisdom, as evident in Aelred’s writings. Outside of his pastoral/diocese time, Ambrose used his time from his solitude to write and exchange friendships. Ambrose’s optimism about friendship leads him to embrace the comfort and support friends provide, and to elevate beneficentia or benevolentia as sine non qua of friendship.99
Jerome, Boniface, and other Anglo-Saxon missionaries have had a good variety of deep spiritual friendships with males, females, abbots, monks, and abbesses, that have informed Aelred’s conceptualization.100 Some of these letters of exchange explicitly display a love, a longing, and a desire for communion and support between friends to carry them through their pilgrimage of love and piety for God; and in some cases, these spiritual confidantes never met in person, but bared their soul freely to each other regularly in letters.101 Despite rumors, Jerome’s friendship with widower Paula remained in chastity.102
As can be seen, Aelred follows the Latin Western mystics to affirm the instrumental role of friendships towards God. McGuire has eloquently paraphrased Alcuin’s thoughts, that in human love we see images of divine love, which makes all varieties of love possible.103 As spiritual intimacy represents the highest goal of Aelredian friendship, he would affirm relational intimacy in its most holy and mature manner, befitting of true friendship: that this love would not contain travesties of avarice and concupiscence: caritas has nothing to do with cupiditas.104
How can platonicity develop healthily, without romance hindering it? While romance as we know it today would have been foreign to medieval platonic male-female friendship, there is at least a recognition of the potential perils of such friendship developing into a sexual promiscuity. As Vernon remarks, “how sex can hang a question mark over friendship, or vice versa.”105 That said, male-female platonicity remains possible, if friends honor each other – not by twentieth-first century standards of “Friends with [sexual/pleasurable] Benefits” (a movie directed by Will Gluck starring the friendship of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) – but through a medieval lectio divina framework; that of growing in discernment in two simultaneous directions – the knowledge of God and knowledge of self, especially in the inner movements of one’s own heart.
Spiritual exercise has its roots in a philosophical tradition of scrutinizing intentions and behavior that forms the conscience since the time of Socrates.106 In later Christian spirituality, Ignatius of Lyola in Spiritual Exercises expands this examination of the heart to include a search for the movements of consolations and desolations.107 Though Aelred offers no such these instructions, he did provide guidelines on developing healthy relationships, such as loving each other’s soul as their own, with pure intention, and cardinal virtues, which include rejecting nothing expedient, accepting nothing unbecoming, and growing together in prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and always expressing their kindred-ness in properly ordered love. Chastity and wisdom, towards God and each other, then represents the two roots to this truly healthy platonic bond. McEvoy calls the Aelredian approach a friendship of conscience.108
Why does friendship hurt? Life is messy, and sometimes, even with preventive measures (such as setting good boundaries and demonstrating mutual reverence), heartaches still knock at our doors. The reciprocity of love as the fountain and source of friendship would imply that if a friendship hurts, it is often due to differing degrees of reciprocity between friends. It is like the case of Jerome’s disappointment with Heliodorus or William of St. Therry’s question to Bernard of Clairvaux that “you did not love me as I did you” (note: not to be interpreted with any sexual overtones). To a large extent, the degrees of reciprocity depend on the nature of the friendship in Aelred’s conception, whether it is carnal, worldly, or spiritual. In essence, friendship hurts because friends disappoint us, regardless of their intentionality, and because we live in a world characterized by jealousy, possessiveness, and selfishness.109
How can we forgive? Aelred embraces a biblical notion that a friend loves at all times, even when friends falter; it would suggest that forgiveness is possible. On the limits of friendship in Book II, he acknowledges that those who previously followed wayward paths of lusts and avarices may return to fellowship if they are learned to control over their inordinate affections and behaviors. He further postulates that if Christ forgives us and asks us to love our enemies like friends, then, there can be forgiveness however difficult it may be. Some may read Aelred’s comment on distancing from the wayward as an act of judging others. However, the Aelredian paradigm is not an act of casting aspersion, but that of inner discernment, so as to admit into closer friendship with those who show signs of desiring a godly life.
Is reconciliation possible? Aelred’s garden of reciprocal love illustrates the forgiveness process. Like a garden that has to be carefully watered and tended for growth, so too in reconciliation, efforts to nurture and protect the relationship are necessary. As Augustine’s commentary on Galatians 6:2, about bearing each other’s burdens indicates, we grow to bear the infirmities and weaknesses of the weakest. Though there is no guarantee of reconciliation, finding true friends is a mysterious process and like the healing process, both cannot be rushed.110 As John Crossin (a scholar and reader of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantel) suggests, friendship and reconciliation remain keys to spiritual growth.111
Should we move on or trust providence to bring about good amidst our serendipity? Aelred would only recommend dissolution if that is unavoidable and compelling. Keeping a distancing becomes compelling when a friendship recedes from holiness, and walks either in darkness or with a bent for evil and practices evil habits. However, the dissolution ought to be a gradual process, “unstitching little by little,” all the while respecting and affirming the honor and dignity of parties involved.
Nonetheless, Aelred holds that one is still bound to love the former/withdrawn friend at all times, offering support, caring for his/her welfare, safeguard his/her reputation, and never betraying the former confidant’s secrets. It is in the name and honor of Christ’s exemplary model, that we are to love at all times. Jesus loved Judas (whom he knew would betray him even before Judas ever did), the sinners (who still live in sin), and those whom the then socio-conventions considered undeserving of true and noble friendships.112 However, in the case of a dissolved friendship, we no longer show confidence and affection as we would normally do a friend, even though we are still to demonstrate love and support as Christ would his enemies.
Aelred would also say that if the bond indeed rests on the foundations of true friendship (and although it may presently falter), an offense (however hurtful) would not ultimately severe the relationship, even though some distancing might be necessary for a while. A friend loves at all times, believes in, bears with, and hopes in all things concerning you and the friendship. And if true friends expect no reward except the reward of each other’s friendship, then even after reproving an erring friend, reparation remains a possibility, if both continue to connect and grow in Christ.
As Venerable Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert claims of Cuthbert’s relationship with Hereberht, the hermit of Derwentwater: spiritalis amicitiae foedere copulates: “they were bound to each other by the bond of spiritual friendship.”113 Augustine calls it the welding of two souls cleaving together through charity from the Holy Ghost.<114 And this friendship, though a choice, is ordered first by God. As Augustine claims in his letter to a long-lost friend, Marcianus, God is the author and giver of friendship, without whom, none would be friends with God and each other.115
Gospel singer Misty Edwards in the song “Let Me Love You More,” sums up the thrust of this paper. If friendship is intimacy with people in varying degrees, then “after all [that] is said [and done], love is a sacrifice… The gift of love, to whoever God sends our path, could hurt. So people often behave the opposite of what they truly desire – we all want to be loved, and yet, we push [away] those closest to us… the paradox of ‘Come Closer, Go Away’.” Yet, the rewards of true friendship are nurturing! In Aelredian schema, if we exercise care in the process of selection, probation, and testing, then, in moving away from counterfeit and shallow levels of intimacy (carnal and worldly), we will discover that in truly loving each other as we would ourselves, and in the love of God (spiritual), we relate as friends and form healthy relational depth (not to be interpreted via as analogous to contemporary romance of love and friendship).
May chastity, wisdom, and love be unleashed to all who seek the gift of friendship today, as Christians observe the Cistercian feast in honor of St. Aelred of Rievaulx.
 My appreciations to Shaun Horton, for the invitation to write for the American Society of Church History, and to a wider fraternal colleague and friend, Medievalist Dr C.J. Jones (University of Notre Dame), a dear friend, Ms Esther Ng Ailey, and my confidante and wife, Sharlene Yeo, for their comments at short notice, and during the holiday season. Any mistakes remain my responsibility.
Timothy LIM Teck Ngern, “You’re My Friend Indeed: Bearing the Fruits of True Friendship” shared at a Regent University School of Divinity chapel, 29th March 2010.
 Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship. Classics with Commentary Series, with commentary by Dennis Billy (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2008); cf. the backdrop of medieval experience and philosophical conceptions of friendship in Brian Patrick McGuire, Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience, 350-1250 with a New Introduction (New York: Cornell University Press, 2010); Eva Osterberg, Friendship and Love, Ethics and Politics: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern History (Lund: Central European University Press, 2010), and Mark Vernon, The Meaning of Friendship (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
 Brian Patrick McGuire, Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 105.
 McGuire, Brother and Lover, xi.
 Billy on Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 27.
 For a range of perspectives, see McGuire, Brother and Lover, 1994; against the larger backdrop of John Eastburn Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, eds., Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 1999); and Liz Carmichael, Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love (New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 3rd rpr., 2007), especially Carmichael’s ch. 3 on Aelred of Rievaulx, pp. 70-100.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, Prologue, I.6. p.25. Format follows Book, Paragraph, and page.
 McGuire, Brother and Lover, 42-47. The account does not of course discount the reality of sexual temptations he had in the court, and the invitation to sexual communion with a woman whist as a Cistercian monk. See however McGuire’s controversial account of Aelred’s Life of Waldef in McGuire, Brother and Lover, 49-50 turning Aelred into a monk with a monogamous desire for another monk, to the contrary of Aelred’s standard biographer, Walter Daniel. Still to McGuire’s credit, he at least registers the chastity in Aelred’s life after he entered the monastery. See for instance, excerpt of Aelred’s A Rule of Life for the Recluse in McGuire, Brother and Lover, 59-67.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.38, p.40.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.32, 59, pp.39, 46.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.53-57, pp.44-45; II.49, p.68.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.32, p.39.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.39-41, p.40; II.57-59, p.71.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.42, p.40-41; II.60-61, p.72.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.42, p.40-41.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.58-60, pp.46.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.43, p.41; II.16, p.61; II.53, p.69.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.54-55, p.71.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.47, p.68.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.60-61, pp.46.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.9,19,21,24, pp.33-35. In Book II, Aelred explains: “in friendship [as ‘a stage toward the love and knowledge of God’] there is nothing dishonorable, nothing deceptive, nothing feigned: whatever there is, is holy, voluntary, and true. And this itself is also a characteristic of charity. In this, truly, friendship shines forth with a special right of its own, that among those who are bound by the tie of friendship, all joys, all security, all sweetness, [and] all charms are experienced. Therefore in the perfection of charity we love [the] very many who are a source of burden and grief to us, for whose interest we concern ourselves [with them] honorably, not with hypocrisy or dissimulation, but sincerely and voluntarily, but yet we do not admit these to the intimacy of our friendship. And so in friendship are joined honor and charm, truth and joy, sweetness and goodwill, affection and action. And all these take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.” See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.18-20, p.61.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.20, p.35.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.24, p.35. Aelred explains that a friendship contains four elements: love, affection, security, and happiness: “love implies the rendering of services with benevolence, affection, an inward pleasure that manifests itself exteriorly; security, a revelation of all counsels and confidences without fear and suspicion; happiness, a pleasing and friendly sharing of all events which occur, whether joyful or sad, of all thoughts, whether harmful or useful, of everything taught and learned.” cf. III.51, p.96.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.45, 35, pp.41, 40.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.35, 45, pp.40, 41; II.62-64, p.72.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.45, 48-49, p.41; II.59, 62, pp.71, 72.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.65-66,70 p.47. Aelred mentions a conjugal chastity as on par with a virgin in terms of their excellence towards virtue.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.5, p.56; II.24, p.62.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.9-14, pp.46.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.12-14, p.60.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.24-27, pp.62-63.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.18, p.61.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.27, p.63.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.33, p.66; II.67-69, p.73-74.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.33, p.66. Aelred also explains, “Heaven forbid [that the “mutual harmony of evil and wickedness though they are willing to die for one another [be called] … friendship”], since friendship cannot exist among the wicked.” He continues, “as long as any one delights in an evil thing from a desire of evil, as long as sensuality is more gratifying than purity, indiscretion than moderation, flattery than correction,” these desires are “shameful and unworthy of the name of friendship wherein any foul is demanded of a friend.” Cf. II.35-37, p.66; and III.10, pp.84-85.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.28, p.65.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.43, p.67; III.32, p.91
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.12, p.85.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.67, p.74.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.2, p.83.
 Billy on Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 77.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.2, p.83.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.6, 48, pp.84, 96. He writes: “not all whom we love should be received into friendship, for not all are found worthy of it. For since your friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing, you should, in the first place, surely choose one who is considered fitted for all this. Then he is to be tried, and so finally admitted. For friendship should be stable and manifest a certain likeness to eternity, persevering always in affection.” Ibid. cf. II.10, pp.84-85.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.6-8, 55, p.84, 97.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.7, p.84.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.14, p.87.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, 20, pp.88.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.22, pp.88-89; III.73-74, p.103.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, p.88.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.20, pp.88.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.32, p.91.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.55-56, p.97.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, pp.88.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.14, p.87.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.23-25, pp.89.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.28-30, 55, pp. 90-91, 97.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.26, p.89-90.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.41-42, p.94.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.48, p.96.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.43-44, p.95.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.44, p.95.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.44, p.95.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.51, p.96.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.49-51, p.96. Aelred writes: “if nevertheless, you suffer all these evils from whom you once received into friendship, we said that your friendship should not be broken off immediately, but dissolved little by little, and that such reverence should be maintained for the former friendship, that although you withdraw your confidence from him, yet you never withdraw your love, refuse your aid, or deny him your advice. But if his frenzy breaks out even to blasphemies and calumny, do you, nevertheless, yield to the bonds of friendship, yield to charity, so that the blame will reside with him who inflicts, not with him who bears, the injury. Furthermore, if he is found to be a peril to his father, to his country, to his fellow-citizens, to his dependents or to his friends, the bond of familiarity ought to be broken immediately; love for one man should not take precedence over the ruin of many.” III.57, p.97.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.57, 46, pp.97, 95.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.49, p.96.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.66, p.101.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.80, 83, p.107, 108.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.61, p.100.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.79-80, p.106.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.75-76, p.103.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.62, p.100.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.63, 65, pp.100, 101. In poverty, one sees true friends, because there is no flattery or any hope for gain among the poor. See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.71, p.102.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.69-70, pp.101-102.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.72, pp.102-103.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.74-75, p.103.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.66, p.101.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.88, p.110.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.89, p.111.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.90-91, 96-97, pp111, 113.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.92-94, 95, pp.111-112, 113.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.97-98, p.115.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.102, p.116.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.101, p.116.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.101-102, p.116.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.99-101, pp.115-116.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.103-104, 107, 109, pp.116-118.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.111-112, p.121.
 Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.115-127, p.122-126.
 McGuire, Friendship and Community, xi.
 James McEvoy, “The Theory of Friendship in the Latin Middle Ages: Hermeneutics, Contextualization, and the Transmission and Reception of Ancient Texts and Ideas, From c.AD350 to c.1500,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 11, cf. 1-44.
 Ferrante demonstrates how contemporary concepts of romanticized love have been read into medieval documents, thus wrongly interpreting medieval spiritualists’ concept of spiritual and true friendship into an earthly romantic and erotic understanding. Joan M. Ferrante, “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context: Religious Allusions in Courtly Love Texts” both in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints, edited by Susan J. Ridyard (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South Press, 1999), 27-44. Moreover, this Aristotelian notion of friendship-love and soul-mate has historically been interpreted incorrectly as romance only. See Alan Bloom, Love and Friendship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993); cf. A. W. Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985), IX.8.1168b-7-11; 1158A.10-17; 1171A.10-11.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII and IX.
 Carmichael, Friendship, 71.
 David Garrioch, “From Christian Friendship to Secular Sentimentality: Enlightenment Re-Evaluations,” Friendship: A History, edited by Barbara Caine (London: Equinox, 2009), 175.
 Aelred, A Rule of Life for the Recluse (New York: Cistercian, 1971), 52; McGuire, “Jean Gerson and the End of Spiritual Friendship,” 238. Interestingly, unlike the male monastic orders’ reservations about male-male friendships, the later Beguine Orders do not forbid two female recluses from enjoying intimate-wholesome, non-sexual/sensual friendships.
 Richard Newhauser, ed., The Seven Deadly Sins: From Communities to Individuals. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions (Leiden: BRILL, 2007), 81 among others.
 Cassidy explains that although the concept has roots in Stoic notion of universality, later thinkers recover earlier Aristotelian notion of goodwill and benevolence in creating and sustaining friendship. See Eoin G. Cassidy, “‘He who has friends can have no friend’: Classical and Christian Perspectives on the Limits of Friendship,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 46, cf. 45-67.
 McGuire, Friendship and Community, ch. 2, pp.38-133; Ferrante’s two articles in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints (1999), 5-26, 27-44.
Some other exemplars in history include the classical characters of Archilles and Patrodus, the Anglo-Saxon deep longings for friendships between Bishop Boniface and Abbesses, like Egburg and Eangyth, the support between Clare and Francis of Assisi, the twelfth century recluse, Christina of Markyate and his chaste intimacy with her guardian, Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans, the Dominican Jordan of Saxony’s ministry with a nun, Diana of Andalò of Bologne, the nineteenth century spiritual correspondences between Maurice and Therese, and the ‘seraphic friendship’ between Charles II maid of honor, Margaret Godolphin and the English diarist, John Evelyn. See Hans-Werner Goetz, Life in the Middle Ages from Seventh to the Thirteenth Century (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994); Hans-Werner Goetz, “‘Beatus Homo Qui Inventit Amicum’; The Concept of Friendship in Early Medieval Letters of the Anglo-Saxon Tradition on the Continent (Boniface, Alcuin),” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 124-136; Jon M. Sweeney, Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi (New York: Paraclete Press, 2007); The Life of Christina of Markyate, trans. C.H. Talbot, with revision notes by Samuel Fabous and Henrietta Leyser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Patrick Ahern, Maurie and Thérèse: The Story of a Love (New York: Doubleday, 1998); Frances Harris, Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Joan M. Ferrante’s two articles, “Earthly Love in a Spiritual Setting: The Language of Friendship among Religious” and “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context: Religious Allusions in Courtly Love Texts” both in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints, edited by Susan J. Ridyard (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South Press, 1999), 5-26, and 27-44.
In non-conventional relationships, we have examples in the same-sex male friendship of Michel de Montaigne and Etienne La Boëtie, and closer to our time, the American Trappist Thomas Merton’s letters with a Clairvaux monk Jean Leclercq? Michel de Montaigne, Selected Essays with La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Trans. James B. Atkinson, and David Sices (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 2012); Survival or Prophecy: the Letters of Thomas Merton and Jean Leclercq, edited by Brother Patrick Hart (New York: Farrar, Straus and Ciroux, 2002).
 St. Jerome, The Pilgrimage of the Holy Paula. Trans. Aubrey Stewart. Elibron Classics (Adamant Media, 2007); John Lord, Beacon Lights of History vol. IV (Forgotten Books, 2012), 173-210.
 McGuire, Friendship and Community, 41, 60, 107-115.
 McGuire, Friendship and Community, 123. See also McGuire’s citation: Heinrich Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, trans. Peter Munz (New York: Harper, 1964), 101.
 Carmichael, Friendship, ch. 3, pp.70-100.
 Vernon, The Meaning of Friendship, 51. Vernon’s quote continues: “It happens when the similarities between the two loves are forced into too close proximity with the differences.” Richard Rolle (d.1349) remained optimistic about platonic friendship despite its challenges; see Rolle’s The Fire of Love (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 175, cited in Brian Patrick McGuire, “Jean Gerson and the End of Spiritual Friendship: Dilemmas of Conscience,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 230; cf. 229-250.
 Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 129.
 Jules J. Toner, Commentary on Saint Ignatius Rules for Discernment of Spirits: A Guide to the Principles and Practice (Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982); idem, Discerning God’s Will: Ignatius of Loyola’s Teaching on Christian Decision Making (Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1991).
 McEvoy, 11, cf. 1-44.
 Ferrante, “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context,” 44.
 In Paulinus of Nola’s case, Sulpicus Severus did not rekindle the spiritual bond after it dissipates. See McEvoy, “The Theory of Friendship in the Latin Middle Ages,” 12.
 John W. Crossin, Friendship: The Key to Spiritual Growth (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist, 1997).
 Matt 11:19; Lk 7:34; 94; Matt 26:50; Lk 21:16; Matt 20:13; Eph 1:4.
 McGuire, Friendship and Community, 94.
 Augustine, Confessions, IV.4.7.
 Augustine, Epistle 258.