Searching for God in a community
Saint Augustine wanted his brothers to pay attention not only to prayer and study but also to the needs of their fellow brothers (City of God, Bk XIX, 19). His idea of Christian discipleship is about searching for God in common in a community through mutual friendship and honour.
Through his personal confessions, we hear a great deal about his experiences of friendship. He speaks about his mistakes and how he learned to move forward.
Augustine’s experience of true friendship
These experiences of true friendship lead Augustine to appreciate our friends in their totality. It was an experience of a pure friendship that began a long journey of Augustine’s healing and transformation into his conversion to Christianity. Losing a friend remains a painful experience for Augustine as he writes about it even after many years of that pain.
In adulthood, Augustine’s life was transformed by his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ and trust in God. He no longer sees the world as purely material. True reality is only understood when we know of God who is transcendent.
Once converted he seeks to gather his friends together so that they can seek God together. First at Cassiacum then on his return to Africa at Tagaste and eventually at Hippo, he draws others together in friendship so that they might seek God together. They are to be friends in Christ:
‘Love has drawn you here; but love of what: If of me, this too is good, for I desire to be loved by you, but not for myself. Since, therefore, I love you in Christ, do you in return love me in Christ, and let our love for each other sigh and groan to God.’ ( In Jo. Ev. VI, 1)
Friendship is based on love
The main conclusion we can draw from Saint Augustine is that friendship is based on love, it is not based on self-interest. Ultimately, for Christians, it is based on the love of Christ.
Augustine believes that the way we make our love of God real is by loving. Our friendships are part of our loving God and our way to salvation.