FRIENDSHIP: A relation between men for the purpose of mutual support and furtherance, having its root in the natural instinct for association between those of like tastes, aims, and desires. It is to be distinguished from the communion of sexes, and from relations of authority [e.g., that between employer and employed]. As long as the individual was absorbed in the community, the realization of friendship was not possible. Since ancient Greek philosophy was guided by the tendency to secure for the individual his personal value in opposition to the community, without finding the right ethical basis for mutual relations, it naturally esteemed friendship, especially between men of like philosophical training. Owing to their deficient appreciation of the moral value of married life, Greeks like Socrates and Theophrastus even went so far as to give friendship the precedence over every other form of love.
In modern times speculation on friendship has been less prominent, because in Christianity friendships arise everywhere as a matter of course. Christianity prepared an entirely new soil for friendship. While in the Aristotelian conception of philia and in Cicero's amicitia the general ethical sense of communion is confused with the special idea of friendship, in Christianity both are clearly separated. The former has been purified and perfected in the love of one's neighbor (philadelphia, II Pet. i. 7); still higher must be ranked the union of the saved children of God (John xiii. 34, xvii. 21), as being in its spiritual and moral content superior to all conceptions of the pre-Christian world. While, moreover, the ancient world considered friendship the highest form of communion, because it did not estimate the moral personality of woman and the moral value of married life, Christianity by placing woman on an equal footing with man in a religious and moral aspect, showed in married life a natural form of communion far superior to every kind of friendship in intimacy, satisfaction of soul, and permanence. But since Christianity appreciates every just natural instinct, and purifies it ethically, it acknowledges the right of the natural relations of friendship as long as they do not interfere with the moral obligations in family, Church, and State.
The purpose of friendship has been variously stated. According to Socrates and the Stoics, it is profit; according to Aristotle, profit, pleasure, and virtue; according to Epicurus, the purpose is profit, the consequence enjoyment. Cicero more correctly put the natural impulse which binds men to men before a conscious striving for profit, although he would have done still better, had he said want and need instead of natural impulse. Friendships flourish best in the period of youth because then the need for help from outside oneself is strongest. There are sentimental friendships based on like impressions and feelings; esthetic friendships, like that between Goethe and Schiller (cf. their interchange of letters); and scientific friendships, between men of like vocation. The highest form of friendship is the religious, in which the Christian's love of his fellow man unites with natural sympathy differing and yet like-minded individualities, because there is developed here the deepest intimacy, sincerity and truth of spiritual communion in connection with the most devoted sense of sacrifice.