Translation to English (2006) of the Life of Mary Magdalene by Henri Lacordaire, OP (1859)
Of Friendship in Jesus Christ
Friendship is the most perfect of human emotions, because it is the most free, the most pure and the most profound.In relationships involving filial piety and maternal love, the child has not chosen his mother and his father; he is born of them without having any say in the matter, and to the degree that his heart opens during his youth, he knows more deeply the need of loving by an act which gives it to whom he chooses.If his parents, all too aware of what is lacking in the love of even the best son, force themselves to conquer it by an over-indulgence which brings them close to childhood, this generally does no more than to prepare the way for more ingratitude on his part; and if, jealous of this sacred authority that age and reason confer on them, they exert it with the virility of a tenderness that does not forget duty, the child, more docile, it is true, better regulated, better informed of his natural position, will not fail, however, to conceive this fear which, completely filial though it may be, stops in its tracks the outpouring of a fallacious equality between child and parents.
Barely yet a man, before even he attains maturity, the child of the most loving mother aspires to break away from her and to verify these words of Scripture, so gentle and so terrible at the same time:ďMan will leave his father and his mother, and he will join himself to his wife.ĒThere, at last, will he find the liberty of choice that is one of the conditions of love? Far from it.A thousand compelling circumstances point out to a man the companion of his life.Birth, fortune, chance dictate their laws to him at the moment where his heart alone should decide, and, a victim crowned with bitter roses, he advances towards the altar to promise everything and to give very little.How many marriages from which love is absent!And if the two souls have really spoken to one another, if the rare spark of a reciprocal affection has illumined two promises, how many pitfalls are concealed in this happiness and how many causes of its premature close!
Conjugal love, the strongest of all while it lasts, has, however, within it a weakness that arises from its very ardour.The senses are not strangers to it.The beauty of the flesh is its main source of nourishment, and this beauty, brief and precarious, is not even certain of retaining as long as it lasts a hold on the heart that it has subjugated.Too often, while the world still admires it, it has lost the happiness of its reign, and the crowd offers it devotions that fall on a secret and woeful ruin.This beautiful face no longer says anything to he who had adored it, and a horrible resignation, a resignation unknown that one cannot even pity, falls on the intoxication of a cult that had promised itself immortality.If the charm exerted by beauty lasts as long as its cause, this cause itself in due course withers.Youth, which is an essential element of living beauty, hurries towards its close, and it is in vain that art struggles against an inexorable decadence.The husband wants to delude himself; he does manage to for some time.But there comes a time when it is no longer possible, and love, which clung to this delicate wire of features and colours, gradually evaporates even while still looking for what it loved only yesterday.
Friendship, when it is sincere, is not liable to these reverses of fortune. It is born in freer regions, purer and deeper than any other type of affection.It is not the breast of a woman bent over a cradle that gives it birth; it has not for its gateway a contract binding different interests, and which is sanctioned by an altar whose fire has cinders within it; it comes out of man by a supreme act of freedom, and this liberty lasts until the end, without the law of God or of man ever consecrating its resolution.Friendship lives by itself and by itself alone; free in its birth, it remains so in its course.Its food is a sympathy with no material base between two souls, a mysterious resemblance between the invisible beauty of one and the other, a beauty that the senses can perceive in the revelations of the face, but which the overflowing of a confiding trust that grows by itself reveals still more clearly, until the light makes itself manifest without shadows and without any limits, and friendship becomes the reciprocal possession of two ways of thinking, of two wills, of two virtues, of two lives free always to go their own ways and never parting from one another.Age cannot weaken such a communion; because the soul has no age.Superior to Time, it inhabits the eternal abode of spirits, and attached though it be to the body that animates it, it does not know, if it so wishes, its weaknesses and corruption.And even, by an admirable dispensation, Time strengthens friendship.To the degree that outward events affect the lives of two friends, their mutual fidelity is strengthened by the test.They see better the unity of their feelings under the shock that might have destroyed it or weakened it.Like two rocks suspended above the same waves and opposing to them an unyielding resistance, so the ocean of the years attacks in vain the unfailing harmony of their hearts.It is necessary to live to be certain of being loved.
But is it not a dream? Is friendship anything more than a sublime and consoling name? There are mothers who love their sons; there are wives who love their husbands.These are imperfect links, nevertheless they are real:does friendship have any existence? Is it not a flower of youth that withers before its spring? Is it not one of those golden clouds that appear and dawn and never see the evening?
For a long time I believed that youth was the age of friendship, and that friendship itself was like the gracious preamble to all our affection.I was mistaken.Youth is too shallow for friendship; it is not yet seated either in its thoughts or in its wishes, and it cannot, in giving itself, give more than hope.On the other hand, maturity is too cold for this great sentiment; it has too many interests that preoccupy it and enslave it.It lacks the generous liberty of being that does not yet belong to the world, and also the naivete that fears nothing in life.Must I then withdraw the title of this chapter and inscribe friendship among the dreams of Adamís posterity? But the Gospels stop me here, my own history stops me.Without doubt I have left by the way, like profane deposits, many affections that had seduced me; I have seen perish in my heart the immaterial beauty of more than one beloved soul.However, it would be just as difficult for me to be incredulous in friendship as it would in religion, and I believe in the mutual attachment of human beings as I believe in the goodness of God.Man deceives and God never deceives; it is there that lies the difference:man does not always deceive; therein lies his resemblance to God.Feeble and fallible creature, his friendship has all the more price that he conceives and carries it in a more fragile vase.He loves sincerely in a spirit subject to egotism; he loves purely in a corrupted flesh, he loves eternally in a day that has an end; I believe it and I know it.Except for first childhood, no age is unsuitable for friendship.Youth brings to it more alacrity in its sympathy, maturity more constancy, old age more detachment and depth.Neither rank, moreover, nor fortune, nor anything that separates human beings has any effect here.Kings have been seen to love one of their subjects, slaves attach themselves to their masters.Friendship is born of the soul in the soul, and the soul only counts by itself.Once one has met on that sphere, everything else vanishes:like a day and even better, when we meet each other in God, the universe will be no more for us than a forgotten spectacle.But it is difficult to meet in a place so distant as the soul, so hidden behind the ocean that surrounds it and under the cloud that covers it.If the Scriptures say of God that he inhabits an inaccessible light; one can say of the soul that it inhabits an impenetrable shadow.One believes one is touching it, and it is barely as if the hand that searches for it has seized the hem of its garment.It contracts and withdraws at the moment where one thinks one is certain to possess it, one moment a serpent, the next a trembling dove, flame or ice, torrent or peaceful lake, and always, whatever be its form or its image, the reef on which one breaks oneself the most and the port into which one least enters.It is therefore a rare and divine thing, friendship, the sure sign of a great soul and the highest of visible rewards attached to virtue.
It cannot therefore be alien to Christianity, which has uplifted souls and created so many virtues.When two Christian spouses, for example, have found in their faith the principle of their fidelity, Jesus Christ, who has blessed their love, has not promised to them an immortal duration of their love.But if the ardour of the blood diminishes at the same time as beauty fades, even that, instead of being a sign of the decay of their love, is the forerunner of its progression.The soul does not cease to love because the body loses its appeal; confidence, esteem, respect, the habit of an intimate and reciprocal interaction, sustain in their hearts the portal of an attraction that grows stronger as it becomes purer.Tenderness survives under a new guise.It is no longer the terrestrial emotions of an earlier time, but the divine trembling of spirits assisted by the memory of a youth that was pure and at the same time enchanted.The crown of Virgins descends from the sacred heights of Christian marriage onto the forehead of the spouses, and they sing together a canticle that death itself cannot silence, because eternity, which lends it to them down below, returns it to them in the bosom of God.Instead of the horrible torments to which the tainted flesh condemns the living heart, friendship rises from the nuptial couch cooled like a lily perfumed by the love which is no more, and old age itself, embalmed with this perfume that transforms it, inclines towards the tomb like those trees hundreds of years old that have reserved for their last years their most beautiful flowers and their best fruits.Friendship is, in Christianity, the final term and the supreme recompense of conjugal love.
It is also that of the virtues of youth.When a young man, helped by this all-powerful grace that comes from Christ, controls his passions under the rule of chastity, he experiences in his heart an expansion in proportion to the constraints of his senses, and the need to love, that is the basis of our nature, is born in him in a naÔve ardour that leads him to overflow into a soul like hers, fervent and contained.He does not look for long in vain for its appearance.It offers itself to him naturally, as every plant grows from the soil that best suits it.Sympathy is only refused to him who does not inspire it and he inspires it who carries in himself the generous ferment.Every pure heart possesses it, and as a consequence, every pure heart draws toward it, at no matter what age.But how much more so during youth.How much more when the face is adorned with all the graces that soften, and when virtue illuminates it with that other beauty that pleases God himself!Thus appeared David to Jonathan the day when David entered Saulís tent, holding the giantís head in his right hand, and when interrogated by the king as to his origins, he answered him:ďI am the son of your servant Isaiah of Bethlehem.ĒImmediately, say the Scriptures, the soul of Jonathan attached itself to that of David, and Jonathan loved him as he loved his own soul.Only a while before, David was looking after his fatherís flock, Jonathan was on the threshold of a throne, and in an instant the distance between them was abolished; the shepherd and the prince made no more, according to the very words of Scripture, than one soul.It was because in this young man still pale from the weakness of childhood, and nevertheless holding in his virile hand the bloody head of a vanquished enemy, Jonathan had recognized a hero, and because David, in seeing the son of his king leaning towards him, without any jealousy over his victory and without any pride of caste, recognized in this generous movement a heart capable of loving, and worthy in consequence of being loved.
Amongst the Ancients, neither conjugal love, nor the charm of youth could produce this Christian friendship whose features we have just outlined.Woman was too lowly to sustain a manís attachment by the sole influence of the confidence he had in her and the esteem he held her in; her power vanished with her beauty, and it was unusual that she could survive herself in a more perfect sentiment.Old age, so magnificent and so touching in Christianity, also brought with the ravages wrought by Time the humiliations attendant upon abandonment:happy when a place remained for her at the domestic hearth, under the protection of a law less harsh than the heart of her husband.
As for the young men of the Ancient world, too little chaste to be loved, he hardly showed in the transport of his passions, whatever they might be, the pure outpourings of an irreproachable ardor.He loved with his senses far more than with his soul, and if the name of friendship was known to him, because man has never completely ignored nor completely corrupted his natural self, he lacked moreover, save perhaps in rare cases, that stroke of the bow which has made to gush out of us the source of unadulterated affection.Jesus Christ is not the first father of friendship amongst human beings; it existed in the earthly Paradise, when Adam and Eve, still covered with their innocence as with a veil, walked together under the observation of God, smitten for each other by a sentiment where tenderness equaled purity.But that was only for a day, an hour perhaps; soon the flesh, frightened at itself, was enveloped in mournful shadows, and humankind no longer loved as we had loved at first.But human beings carried away from this first love into the abject condition of exile a memory that follows them everywhere, and when the Son of Man came to save them, none of them were astonished at the Gospels being a book of love, and love being the book of salvation.Jesus Christ called into being neither tenderness nor purity, these two divine things, with which our heart was formed, but he gave them back to us.He loved as nobody else was capable of loving and, amongst so many friendships whose secret he has restored to us, I want to indicate one of which no trace was found before Christ.
Jesus Christ loved souls, and he has transmitted this love to us, which is the very basis of Christianity.No true Christian, no living Christian, can be without a fragment of this love that circulates in our veins like the very blood of Christ.From the moment we love, whether it be in youth or in middle age, as a father or as a husband, as a son or as a friend, we want to save the soul we love, that is to say, give it, at the price of our own life, truth in the faith, virtue in grace, peace in redemption.God at last, God known, God loved, God served, there is that love of souls that adds itself to all the others, and which, far from destroying them, exalts and transforms them until it makes of them something divine, however mortal they be in themselves.And, moreover, the love of souls leads to friendship when one has been, near a poor fallen creature, the instrument of the light that reveals her form and which gives back to her her own dignity, this sublime healing of a death that should have been eternal sometimes inspires in two souls an indefinable attraction, born of the happiness given and the happiness received.And if natural sympathy is joined onto this movement that comes from on high, there forms from all these divine chances into the same hearts an attachment that would have no name on earth, if Jesus Christ himself had not said to his disciples:ďI have called you my friends.ĒThis then is friendship.It is friendship such as God made man and dying for his friends conceived it.But still, amongst these souls with whom Jesus Christ lived and died, there was one who was especially favoured.He loved them all, but he loved some more than others.It was there, in this world, the summit of human and divine affections; nothing had prepared the world for it, and the world would only see again an obscure image in the holiest and most celestial friendships.