Spiritual Friendship as Spiritual Formation: Part II
As I had mentioned in last week’s blog, I’m posting entries from a paper I wrote for school analyzing St. Aelred’s work on spiritual friendship as a legitimate way to being formed into God’s image.
Forewarning: The language is a bit more formal, due to the academic nature of the paper, but I hope it can still be enlightening read nonetheless, as it can familiarize us with Aelred’s thoughts in a simplified format.
In part II of these blogs, I introduce how spiritual friendship functions as spiritual formation through what the ancient Christian tradition knows as the “Threefold Way of Spiritual Formation” (which includes fancy latin words) and how it relates to Aelred’s metaphor for the three stages of spiritual friendship he calls the “Threefold Kiss.”
Intriguing, I know.
From there, I start with Aelred’s foundation: Spiritual friendship always begins with the love of God.
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Spiritual Friendship as Spiritual Formation
Spiritual friendships bound by the love of Christ become a powerful source for spiritual formation, climaxing in the love and knowledge of God.Much of Aelred’s thought falls in line with the threefold way of ancient spiritual formation practices: The Via Purgativa, a self-examination to purge evil from one’s life through ascetic practices; the Via Illuminativa, an enlightenment of one’s mind with the goodness of God’s light; and the Via Unitiva, when one’s life is directly aligned with God in perfect union.Coincidentally, Aelred uses a similar threefold movement called “The Threefold Kiss” to illustrate the progression through three stages of spiritual friendship: the carnal kiss, the spiritual kiss, and the intellectual kiss.Aelred’s threefold kiss metaphoris vastly comparable with the threefold way of spiritual formation. First, the carnal kiss is a metaphor for the physical sanctifying experience of friendship, comparative with the Via Purgativa. Second, the spiritual kiss is a metaphor for the intermingling of friends’ spirits, granting them a glimpse of Christ through their friendship—similar to the Via Illuminativa. Lastly, the intellectual kiss is when one’s spirit intimately embraces God’s own, reflecting the Via Unitiva.
Moving forward, I will summarize Aelred’s treatise within his threefold kiss framework to illustrate how the dimensions of spiritual friendship align with the threefold way as a viable means to spiritual formation. Before addressing the first stage of spiritual friendship’s formational implications, Aelred starts with this precedent: True friendship always begins with love for God.
The Foundation: Love for God
Aelred begins his treatise with a statement that summarizes his entire work. When his allegorical friend, Ivo, approaches him, Aelred says, “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst.”This communion of friends and Christ’s very presence is the result of friendship reaching its greatest heights. However, friendship experiences of this spiritual caliber requires a solid foundation. Aelred begins this foundation by building upon Cicero’s definition of friendship: “[a] mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.”If “charity,” meaning affection, and “benevolence,” meaning goodwill, are the defining virtues of friendship,then love is the greatest expression of these virtues, as the latin word for friendship, amicita,derives from the latin word for love: amor.There can be no friendship without love.Therefore, one can only practice the love required of friendship if his or her love is founded on the love of God—a mutual harmony of divine affairs.To give and receive the highest form of love in friendship, one must be friends with the One who “laid his life down for his friends.”Aelred asserts that “true friendship cannot exist among those who live without Christ,”because those without Christ will not know the depths of love and sacrifice essential to spiritual friendship. With this as the foundation, then everything built upon it will conform to it – including the pursuit of friends. The individual will then be granted good judgment for who to befriend that will “purge” him or her of sin to grow in virtue.This sets the stage for the Via Purgativa demonstrated through the carnal kiss.
To Be Continued
Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 146-8.