I have previously mentioned Francis de Sales and his spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life. Here he reflects on the importance of friendship to the spiritual life.

Evil Friendships

Foremost among the soul’s affections is love. Love is the ruler of every motion of the heart, making us like to that we love. Beware, then, my child, of harboring any evil affection, or you too will become evil. And friendship is the most dangerous of all affections, because it is hardly possible to be closely bound by its ties to anyone without sharing in their qualities.

If people share false and vain things, their friendship will be false and vain; if that which is good and true, their friendship will be good and true, and the better that which is the staple of the bond, so much the better will the friendship be. That honey is best that is gathered from the choicest flowers, and so friendship built upon the highest and purest intercommunion is the best.

Frivolous Friendships

Whatever is founded on mere sensuality, vanity, or frivolity, is unworthy to be called friendship. I mean such attractions as are purely external; a sweet voice, personal beauty, and the cleverness or outward show that have great weight with some. You will often hear people unhesitatingly decide that this person is very delightful, very admirable, because he is good-looking, well-dressed, sings, or dances, or talks well. Even charlatans esteem the wittiest clown amongst them as their best man. But all these things are purely sensual, and the connections built on such foundation must be vain and frivolous, more fitly to be called trifling than friendship. They spring up chiefly among young people, who are easily fascinated by personal attractions, dress, and gossip.

Real Friendships

Love everyone with the pure love of charity, but have no friendship save with those whose conversation is good and true, and the purer the bond that unites you so much higher will your friendship be. If your connection is based on science it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises from a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond of your mutual liking be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, God knows how very precious a friendship it is! Precious because it comes from God, because it tends to God, because God is the link that binds you, because it will last forever in him. Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in heaven, and to begin that friendship here that is to endure forever there.

I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship that binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them. All other friendship is but as a shadow with respect to this, its links mere fragile glass compared to the golden bond of true devotion. Do not form other friendships. I say “form,” because you have no right to cast aside or neglect the natural bonds that draw you to relations, connections, benefactors or neighbors. My rules apply to those you deliberately choose to make.

There are some who will tell you that you should avoid all special affection or friendship, as likely to engross the heart, distract the mind, excite jealousy, and what not. In the world all have not one aim, one mind, and therefore we must take to us congenial friends, nor is there any undue partiality in such attachments, which are but as the separation of good from evil, the sheep from the goats, the bee from the drone—a necessary separation. No one can deny that our dear Lord loved Saint John, Lazarus, Martha, Magdalene, with a specially tender friendship, since we are told so in Holy Scripture. So we see that the highest grace does not lie in being without friendships, but in having none that are not good, holy and true.

Differentiating True and False Friendship

You may distinguish between worldly friendship and that which is good and holy, just as one distinguishes that poisonous honey from what is good—it is sweeter to the taste than ordinary honey, owing to the aconite infused—and so worldly friendship is profuse in honeyed words, passionate endearments, commendations of beauty and outward charms, while true friendship speaks a simple honest language, praising nothing but the grace of God, its one only foundation. That strange honey causes giddiness; and so false friendship upsets the mind, makes its victim to totter in the ways of purity and devotion, inducing affected looks, inordinate sighs, petty complaints of not being loved, and the like, which are sure precursors of evil; whereas true friendship is modest and straightforward in every glance, has no sighs save for heaven, no complaints save that God is not loved sufficiently. That honey confuses the sight, and worldly friendship confuses the judgment, so that people think themselves right while doing evil, and assume their excuses and pretexts to be valid reasoning. They fear the light and love darkness; but true friendship is clear-sighted, and hides nothing. Lastly, this poisonous honey leaves an exceeding bitter taste behind; and so false friendship turns to evil desires, upbraidings, slander, deceit, sorrow, confusion and jealousies, too often ending in downright sin; but pure friendship is always the same—modest, courteous and loving—knowing no change save an increasingly pure and perfect union, a type of the blessed friendships of heaven.