Student Essay:
The Forms of Friendship

By Cordelia Henrie

We call many different things "friendship"; what are its contours?

Out of a multitude of everyday companions, friendship grows between those who are kindred spirits. C. S. Lewis writes about this in The Four Loves. He explains that the matrix of friendship is “co-operation” or “companionship” between people in communities; out of this matrix grows the love of friendship properly so called. This happens, Lewis writes, “when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share.” This explains why not all students in the same school are friends with one another, despite their constant companionship. Naturally, they have different interests, and they separate into friendship groups according to those interests. It also explains why friendship can be found in unlikely places. For example, the age difference between Scout and Atticus in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird would normally seem to be a bar to their friendship; similarly, in Jane Austen’s Emma, the romantic relationship between Mr. Knightley and the titular heroine sometimes obscures the fact that they are also friends. However, according to Lewis, people need only to share the same interests in order to be true friends. Therefore, pairs like Scout and Atticus or Mr. Knightley and Emma are certainly friends because of their shared interests.

A little reflection will make it clear that there are different kinds of friendship. The friendship you have with your golfing buddy is different from the friendship you have with someone who shares your passion for history or literature. This latter kind of friendship—intellectual friendship—is sometimes overlooked or discounted, because it seems slightly contradictory. The life of intellectuals is usually considered lonely because their interests are all “in their head.” Superficially, it might appear that these cannot be shared with others. However, this could not be farther from the truth. Intellectuals may have to seek further than most people for friends who share their particular interests, but these friendships are nonetheless deep, inspiring, and personal relationships. Very little shows the character of a man more than his most pressing intellectual concerns. 

Lewis himself was a prime example of someone who benefitted from his intellectual friendships. One wonders whether the Chronicles of Narnia would ever have been written if not for the influence of the Inklings. And how far would Louisa May Alcott have gotten in her writings if not for the encouragement of other Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau? Even America’s Founding Fathers were, in a sense, a group of intellectual friends who acted on their shared intellectual ideals.

We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.

Out of these examples of friendship have come many great ideas, insights, and intellectual revolutions. These have come about through discussions among the group, in which one friend introduces a budding concept and the group as a whole discusses it and refines it, until it has taken shape and blossomed into a fully developed theory or work of art. This would never have been achieved if not for the gift of intellectual friendship. But intellectual achievement is not the driving motive of these friendships; we do not seek friends for the sake of using them to advance our purposes, not even intellectual ones. Rather, intellectual friendship is a good in itself. Such friends delight in sharing their “common quest or vision.”

Still, although intellectual friendship is a good, and a very great one, it is not the highest form of friendship. That category belongs to virtue friendship—a friendship in which the individuals lead each other toward virtue, which is the greatest good. While intellectual friendship is a sort of school in itself, Lewis calls virtue friendship “a school of virtue.” Virtue friends encourage each other in their moral and spiritual struggles because “two are better than one … for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Virtue friends not only grow in their own friendship, but they also help each other grow in friendship with Christ. They are, as Lewis puts it, “joint seekers of the same God, the same beauty, the same truth.”

Lastly, as Lewis says, “Let us not reckon without our Host,” who is God. Though it may seem as if we can choose our own friends, in reality God chooses them for us in order to help us on the road to eternal life with Him. Friendship “is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.” Through it, we can appreciate the values, character, and beauty of other human beings, and help them reach the fullness of their beauty by encouraging them toward virtue.

Cordelia Henrie is a recent graduate of St. Thérèse Classical Academy in Santa Barbara. In the fall, she will be attending Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. She enjoys reading in her free time, and especially recommends that people try one of her favorite novelists, Georgette Heyer.


If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at some of our other student essays, like this one on the black hole information paradox, or this one on the centrality of truth to education from a student at the University of Navarra. You might also enjoy this three-part series from Dr. Anika Prather on the role of classic education and literature in Black history.

Page image of the Eagle and Child pub, a common meeting place of the Inklings. Obtained courtesy of Wikipedia, taken by Tom Murphy VII (source).

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