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On Loving Everybody – and Nobody Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Joseph Wood once asked me why I so highly esteem Samuel Johnson. Basically, I think that, if someone reads him, he has little other choice. In watching Pope Francis greet people, an issue comes up that Johnson addressed. The pope, along with many politicians, spends much time engaging people, touching them, making them feel known to him. Pope Wojytla was a genius at this. To the despair of police and those directing him to his next engagement, such figures insist on chatting with almost anyone and everyone.

We are urged to love our neighbor as our selves. But the minute we try to do this, we run up against the Aristotelian caution that “he who is a friend of everybody is a friend of nobody.” It is for this reason, among others, that we suspect that popes and politicians are rather lonely people. We increasingly hear it said of the president, greeter that he is on every stage, that “he seems to have no friends.” Kings are said to have no friends but other kings.

This same issue came up in Boswell’s recording (April 15, 1778) of Johnson’s conversation with “the ingenious Quaker lady,” Mrs. Knowles, with whom Johnson seems to have been a bit smitten. Evidently, Mr. Soame Jenyns had written a book, Views of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion, in which he remarked that “friendship is not a Christian virtue.” Mrs. Knowles vigorously objected to this view.

But Johnson agreed with Jenyns. “Why, Madam, strictly speaking, he is right. All friendship is preferring the interest of a friend, to the neglect of, or, perhaps, against the interest of others. . . .Now, Christianity recommends universal benevolence, to consider all men as our brothers, which is contrary to the virtue of friendship.” Johnson next recalls the classic name given to the Quakers: “Surely, Madam, your sect must approve of this; for you call all men ‘friends.’”

Mrs. Knowles responds to Johnson: We are “commanded” to call all men our friends, especially those of the “household of the faith.” Johnson replies that this “household” is “very large” – meaning that such friendships must be quite diffused. To this, Mrs. Knowles observes that Christ had twelve apostles but He loved one the best.  Johnson answers, “with eyes sparkling benignantly, very well, indeed, Madam. You have said very well.”


        Dr. Johnson among friends: The Club, c. 1780

This passage always reminds me of the curious impact of Christian revelation on human relationships. Aristotle knew the differing kinds of friendship – of utility, of pleasure, and those based on the highest kind of virtue. We would be fortunate if, during our lifetime, we had one or two good friends. We know that it takes a whole lifetime just to know some one person well. Does Christianity deny this? As Mrs. Knowles implied, Christianity wants it both ways, to love everyone as friends and to keep the intimacy of a few friends. This fact means that we must keep things straight.

Is there any sense in thinking that we can be friends with everyone or even of those of the “household of the faith?” Many of the problems such considerations bring up were already in Plato. In the Republic, he wanted to destroy the family because its inner relationships were exclusive. They tended to separate everyone into small groups.

Yet the separation of friends into a small group is the very essence of the highest forms of friendship in which we live together in life and conversation. Plato too wanted everyone to be friends. This is precisely where Aristotle stepped in to warn of the dangers of thinking of everyone could be our friends in this world. Plato and Christianity had the same end: that we all be friends.

We are told that in Paradise, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, the most obvious example of exclusive and permanent friendship. Does this teaching mean that no marital friendships are found in heaven? It means that no further begetting takes place once the full number of elect is completed. But were Johnson’s initial remarks right about Christianity? Does it absolve the bonds of friendship? Is this desire that we see in the popes to greet and know everyone, to urge us to be friends with everyone, an illusion?

Christianity teaches that anyone can be our friend, not just those of our city or household. Then there is the little issue of loving our enemies and those who hate us. But we are not to be naïve. Christianity does not overturn Aristotle. What it does tell us is to find what is loveable in everyone, to recognize that we are all loved by God. All our lives are but introductions, glimpses of that eternal life in which we, finally, have the abiding presence to know and love those who respond to God’s call of everyone to Himself.

 
James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
 
 
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Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, August 20, 2013
Father Simply beatiful!
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written by Meyrat, August 20, 2013
This is a matter I've wondered about. Christians are called to love all, both their neighbors and enemies. This certainly does lead to rather superficial ties with others, especially in the realm of social media. People amass a large collection of friends on their computers, and announce some of the current events of their lives. They reduce the deep idea of friendship into a few bits of data. It is next to nothing in terms of experience.

There's something to be said for those who engage others in real life, who touch others, talk to others, who see and hear others. Physical contact already brings the relationship into the present, into human reality, not artificial Facebook reality. Because showing love, nothing self-seeking but something charitable, requires an actual space with multiple individuals sharing it, the church assumes additional importance for the community. People have put off attending church--or any kind of "organized religion"--with the idea that they can have spiritual fellowship virtually or not at all. Many substitute Christ's call to love for the modern world's call to "tolerate." They're Christians because one will never find them saying that they 'hate' someone; they may 'dislike' a few people. This is nothing less than the veiled form of alienation and misanthropy.

For all the "friends" one has these days, Christians would do well to rediscover the joys of friendship and the universal call of love. Social media and tolerance will never replace them.
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written by Jack,CT, August 20, 2013
MeyRat,
Provoking and strong common sense and
true words...thx
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written by Grump, August 20, 2013
"Friends come and go but enemies accumulate." Forgot who said it but rings true.
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written by Howard Kainz, August 20, 2013
Aquinas in the Summa says that friendship can contribute externally to one's happiness in heaven, but is by no means necessary: "If we speak about the perfect happiness that will be attained in the next life, the society of friends is not a matter of necessity for happiness in that state. For a person possesses the complete fulfillment of his/her perfection in God. But the society of friends does contribute to the enhancement of that happiness."
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written by Pam H., August 20, 2013
I don't think Christianity leads to rather superficial ties with others. I think people who are inclined to superficial ties will have them, whether they profess the Faith or not. Christians who are not inclined to superficial ties will have deep friendships, while keeping peace and charity with those who are not capable of deep friendships.
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written by Stanley Anderson, August 20, 2013
Fr Schall wrote, “We are told that in Paradise, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, the most obvious example of exclusive and permanent friendship. Does this teaching mean that no marital friendships are found in heaven? It means that no further begetting takes place once the full number of elect is completed.”

There is begetting and begetting I suppose. For instance, I would guess “begotten of the Father before all worlds” does not become null and void in Paradise. I would obviously not like to speculate confidently about aspects of heaven that we are not told about, but I suspect that whatever is “not” there in heaven will not be so much because of an “absence”, but rather more of a “completion” that we only see a flattened dim image of in this life.

I can’t imagine the following image has not been used elsewhere before, but in my (admittedly very limited) range of references I haven’t seen it. I like to see earthly physical begetting of the sort we see in marriage and giving of marriage as the multiplying branches and leaves of an ever-growing plant or tree.

In contrast, the place where we don’t see that physical begetting – i.e., in the priesthood, the communities of religious, virginity, and martyrdom – is the flowering part of the plant. These flowers, on the surface, would appear to be a “dead end” as far as the growth of the actual plant itself is concerned. As beautiful as they may be in their “prime”, they appear and then wither and then fall away. But it is this flowering portion’s manner of “begetting” that ends up producing a far grander and “fuller” form of growth – one that produces the seeds which spread and grow into new plants themselves.

Again, I don’t want to carry that image too far into speculations about what heavenly life may be “like”, but Life it shall surely be, likely as different, indeed much more so, as a plant’s flower is from its branches and leaves.
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written by Joe, August 20, 2013
Father Schall,

The line,"Christianity does not overturn Aristotle. What it does tell us is to find what is loveable in everyone, to recognize that we are all loved by God," from your thoughtful essay, seems to be the point of Flannery O'Connor's short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

Joe
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written by CJ Wolfe, August 20, 2013
On my reading (and John M. Cooper's reading) of Aristotle on Friendship, those lines from the Nicomachean Ethics have to be tempered by what is said in the Rhetoric about the core of friendship. These points can be pulled out of the NE account, but are explicit in II.4 of the Rhetoric:

"We will begin by defining and friendly feeling. We may describe friendly feeling towards any one as wishing for him what you believe to be good things, not for your own sake but for his, and being inclined, so far as you can, to bring these things about...
Again, we feel friendly to those who have treated us well, either ourselves or those we care for, whether on a large scale, or readily, or at some particular crisis; provided it was for our own sake."

For Aristotle "large scale" friendship may not be as problematic as he makes it seem in the Nicomachean Ethics. However, the Christian act of loving one's enemies for the sake of God is clearly beyond Aristotle, given these passages from the Rhetoric:
"And also to those who we think wish to treat us well. And also to our friends' friends, and to those who like, or are liked by, those whom we like ourselves. And also to those who are enemies to those whose enemies we are, and dislike, or are disliked by, those whom we dislike. For all such persons think the things good which we think good, so that they wish what is good for us; and this, as we saw, is what friends must do."
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written by Bedarz Iliaci, August 20, 2013
We are not to love all but to love our neighbor. It is not an empty distinction.

Johnson is influenced by the prevailing Enlightenment, witness the phrasing "Christianity recommends universal benevolence".
And "All friendship is preferring the interest of a friend".

As CS Lewis writes in The Four Loves, the essence of friendship is the witness of a shared truth. The friends are possessed by a shared truth. While the (erotic) lovers are possessed by the beloved.

Hence, we must reject Dr Johnson's views both on friendship and reduction of Christian love to universal benevolence.

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written by Frank, August 21, 2013
I can understand that relationships here on Earth give us a small glint of the greater joys of Heaven. i hope to see my friends and I accept the possibility of being single once again. But going on thirty one years of marriage,the woman I married has become a part of me. My bachelor days are part of an empty past, the love of my life is as much a part of me as an arm, a leg, an etc. Perhaps I won't be married to this wonderful woman in Heaven but I can't imagine a moment in Heaven without her by my side.
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written by Romy1, August 21, 2013
I thought that being a Christian meant BEING a friend, not "having" friends; that we have an ontological predisposition through the grace of baptism to be the friend that others can call on. That's why it's so important to wear a sign of Christianity (usually a medal or crucifix) because the "other" should know us; they should recoginize the "sign" of our grace toward them. When we are open to being the friend, even strangers should know we can be trusted to put their welfare ahead of ours. That's how people come to Christ - through us, the friend to all in a brutal world.
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written by Leonard, August 21, 2013
Frank (August 21, 2013) said about the attachment to his wife, how he cannot imagine a Heaven without her. I am troubled by the notion that a fullness of friendship as understood by Frank isn't quite the same as the experience between ourselves and God in Heaven as expressed by Fr. Schall. Do I want an eternity in Heaven without the fellowship of my friends? Heaven can't be like that? I don't understand Christianity.
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written by Stanley Anderson, August 21, 2013
Romy1, your comment reminds me of a post I put onto my Facebook status just yesterday. Here is the primary part of it that connects with your post above:

Was just reading an article in the Orange County Catholic newspaper and read this line as a quote someone made: "Very early in his encyclical, Pope John XXIII talked about one fundamental principle: that each individual person is truly a person..." and it went on to quote more of the sentence and to talk about the ramifications of the quote in relation to the article's topic. (for reference, the rest of the Pope John XXIII quote was "Without this basic principle all other rights and duties, all the injustices are on shifting sand." It is wonderful stuff and the article was about wonderful stuff, but irrelevant to what I want to say, as you will see if you read further into this post... )

HOWEVER. When I read that first part of the quote, I initially thought it said, "Very early in his encyclical Pope John XXIII talked about one fundamental principle: that each individual person is truly IN A PRISON" [my upper case for emphasis]

And my reaction was something like "how true!" and my mind was racing with ideas about the application of that idea to Jesus' statement about visiting the prisoners and therefore visiting him unbeknownst and all, so that merely visiting and "being with" anyone in compassion is like visiting a prisoner and visiting Jesus in particular.

And then I realized my mistake. But I still like the mistake. I hope I can be a good visitor to everyone I meet. Not completely successful by any means so far, but I can keep striving for improvement...
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written by stanley zylowski, August 22, 2013
Can I still call someone "Bro"?

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