Book Reviews

Summaries: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Letter Eleven: Friendship (part two)


This chapter summary is part of my reading summaries series. Click here for more information on the series. Click here for more chapter summaries from The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.

Christianity is marked by an “agape-philia” antinomy. This antinomy exercises itself in “equal love for all and each in their unity, concentrated in a single focus of love for several, even for one in his separation from the general unity.” Christianity is marked by a paradoxical character that is both esoteric and exoteric, which is “not rationally compatible… [but] reconcilable only in the most profoundly mysterious Christian life.”

The strange character of Christianity continues as Florensky explains that the Christian community is not composed of individual members. “Like a crystal, a Christian community is not fragmented into amorphous, noncrystallized homoeomeric parts. The limit to fragmentation is not the human atom that from itself relates to the community, but a community molecule, a pair of friends, which is the principle of actions here, just as the family was this kind of molecule for the pagan community… ‘Two or three’ is something qualitatively higher than ‘one.’” Thus, Christ comes to “two or three” gathered in His name, and He sends his apostles to preach “by two and two.”

The disciples are to know and preach the Gospel “by two and two”. Florensky argues that “the knowing of mysteries… is based on the abiding of the disciples two by two.” Indeed, this “two and two” is transformative of and necessary for the friends’ spiritual knowledge. “‘Two’ is not ‘one plus one,’ but something essentially greater, something essentially more manifoldly significant and powerful. ‘Two’ is a new compound of spiritual chemistry, where ‘one plus one’ (the leaven and meal of the parable) is transformed qualitatively and forms a third thing (the leavened whole).” The communion of the pair’ “transforms them into a new spiritual essence, makes of two a particle of the Body of Christ.”

This communion in Christianity places “forgiveness as the basis of friendship”. Christ teaches Peter in Matthew 18 that “relations that are limited to any extent by a multiplicity of forgiveness do not have any Christian force.” In the Christian life, one goes before God as guilty, as a debtor, and “needing God’s forgiveness, one must also forgive others their sins.” Indeed, we cannot pay off the debt owed to God, and what we offer others is not our own, but rather “the capital of God’s mercy, of God’s goodness.” Having nothing, “the only thing left to us (as a measure in case we are separated from these riches of God’s mercy) is to assure for ourselves a place in the hearts of other people, in the ‘everlasting habitations.’ And then the Lord will perhaps praise our resourcefulness. This assurance of a place for ourselves is nothing else but the creation of relations of friendship”, as Christ teaches in Luke 16:9.

Returning to the Christ’s friendship of “by two and two”, Florensky insists that “this friendship was a vital work, not a transitory and accidental collaboration of fellow travelers and fellow workers.” There is even a connection between charismatic gifts and friendship, as “according to the popular consciousness, the fit of healing is given only to pairs of the Lord’s followers.” According to St. Jerome, “Two by two are called and two by two are sent the disciples of Christ, for love does not abide with one, which is why it is said: Woe unto the solitary.” And St. Augustine writes, “As for the fact that he sends them two by two, this is the sacrament of love, either because two is the commandment of love or because no love can exist between fewer than two.”

Friendship is not merely found in shared experiences and attributes. In the writings of St. Clement of Rome, “friendship is understood not so much from the point of view of actions and feelings… as from the point of view of the metaphysical basis upon which perfect unity of soul is possible.” Indeed, “the holy fathers often repeat the idea of the necessity–along with universal love, agape–of individualized friendship, philia. While the former must offer itself to every man despite his uncleanness, the latter must be careful in choosing a friend. For one grows intertwined with a friend; one receives a friend, together with his qualities, into oneself.”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus teaches that, “once a friend is chosen, the friendship has… features of unconditionality.” There is a limitlessness of friendship: “Friendship bears all that it suffers or hears.” And in friendship there is a unity. “The interests of friends merge. The property of one becomes the property of the other, and the good of one becomes the good of the other.”

Florensky writes that among friends there is a unity of lovers. “In a friend, one sees oneself as it were, one’s most intimate essence, one’s other I. But this other I is not different from one’s own I. A friend is received into the I of the lover… The loved one… is received by his friend and nestles, like a mother’s child, beneath his heart… Each lives by the other, or rather, the life of the one and the other flow from a common center… They are not they, but something greater: one soul.”

Likewise, St. John Chyrsostom writes: “He who has a friend has another self”. And elsewhere: “the nature of love is such that the loving one and the love one constitute not two separate persons but one man.” Florensky notes that there is, among friends, a “unity of feeling, will, and thought that completely excludes divergence of feeling will and thought.” This unity, however, is “not a dissolution of individuality… but its raising, consolidating, fortifying, and deepening.” In becoming perfectly one, the friends also become perfectly themselves.

Florensky cautions that heroism is not at the core of friendship. “The power and difficulty of friendship lie not in the fireworks of the ascesis of the moment but in the constant burning patience that lasts a lifetime… The truest heroism lies in friendship and in what animates it. But, here too, heroism is only a flower of friendship, not its stalk and root.” Friendship extends “to all life’s reality, even to banal, everyday experience… For philia knows a friend not by his outward pose, not by the dress of heroism, but by his smile, by his quiet talk, by his weaknesses, by how he treats people in ordinary human life, by how he eats and sleeps.”

This depth of friendship creates a knowledge of the other that is not susceptible to deception or subtle rhetoric or heroism. For “one cannot deceive with everyday life… Any person can accomplish one or another act of heroism. Anyone can be interesting. But only my friend can smile, speak, and comfort as he does, no one else.”

(Part Three of this summary can be found here)

2 comments on “Summaries: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Letter Eleven: Friendship (part two)

  1. Pingback: Summary: Pavel Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth | Ideas of a University

  2. Pingback: Summaries: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Letter Eleven: Friendship (part one) | Ideas of a University

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