In this article, St. Francis de Sales warns us of false friendships, and that oftentimes the things we deem as something to be sought after in a friend are really vain and shallow.

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Friendship by St. Francis de Sales

Among the passions, love holds first place: It is the king of the heart’s movements and it converts everything to it, rendering the one who loves similar to the one loved.

Be very careful, therefore, dear Reader, not to have any evil love, because you will in turn quickly become evil yourself.

Friendship is the most dangerous of all loves. Why? Because other loves can exist without communication, exchange, closeness. But friendship is completely founded upon communication and exchange and cannot exist in practice without sharing in the qualities and defects of the friend loved.

Not all love is friendship: First of all, because one can love without being loved. It may then be love, but not friendship. For friendship is mutual, reciprocal, and if it is not reciprocated, it is not friendship.

Secondly, because it is not enough that it be reciprocal; it is also essential that those who love each other recognize their mutual love. If they are unaware of it, it is not friendship.

Thirdly, because in friendship there must exist some kind of exchange or communication, for such is the foundation of friendship.

Friendship differs according to the different kinds of communication, and the communications differ according to the variety of goods exchanged. If these are false goods, then the friendship is false.

Honey gathered from the best flowers is the best. So too, the better the goods exchanged, the better the friendship. It is said that the honey of Heraclea, gathered from aconite, which is very abundant in that region, renders mad those who eat it.

So too, friendship founded on the exchange of false and vicious goods is itself completely false and vicious.

The exchange of carnal delights ought not to be called friendship in human relations any more than it would be called such in donkeys or horses.

If marriage implied only this kind of exchange, it would no longer deserve to be called friendship. In addition to this there must be a communication of life, of work, of feelings, and finally an indissoluble fidelity.

With these dimensions the friendship of marriage is a true and holy friendship. Friendship founded on the exchange of sensual pleasures is gross and unworthy of the name of friendship, and so too is that based on vain and frivolous qualities, since these also depend on the senses.

I call sensual pleasures those which are attached directly and principally to the five senses: the pleasure of seeing beauty, of hearing a sweet voice, of touching pleasant things… I term frivolous qualities those capacities, innate or acquired, which superficial people call “virtues” or “perfections.”

Just listen to young people; they do not hesitate to conclude that a person has great qualities simply because he dances well, dresses well, sings well, chats pleasantly, has a fine appearance or is skilled in all kinds of games.

Do not charlatans consider the biggest clowns to be the most accomplished people in their group? Since all this relates only to the level of the senses, we can qualify as sensual those friendships based on such.

They really deserve to be called amusements rather than friendships. Such are ordinarily the friendships among young people, stopping as they often do at such things as moustaches, hair, glances, clothing, attractiveness, small talk – friendships worthy of that age whose virtue is still only downy and whose judgment is just in the bud: friendships which are but fleeting, melting like snow in the sun.

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