St Ambrose: Are You Willing to Rebuke Your Friend?

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Ambrose_Square_2.jpgNOTHING, then, must be set before virtue; and that it may never be set aside by the desire for friendship, Scripture also gives us a warning on the subject of friendship. There are, indeed various questions raised among philosophers; for instance whether a man ought for the sake of a friend to plot against his country or not, so as to serve his friend? Whether it is right to break one’s faith, and so aid and maintain a friend’s advantage?

And Scripture also says: A maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow, so is a man that bears false witness against his friend (Prov. 25.18). But note what it adds. It blames not witness given against a friend, but false witness. For what if the cause of God or of one’s country compels one to give witness? Ought friendship to take a higher place than our religion, or our love for our fellow citizens? In these matters, however, true witness is required so that a friend may not be assailed by the treachery of a friend, by whose good faith he ought to be acquitted. A man, then, ought never to please a friend who desires evil, or to plot against one who is innocent.

Certainly, if it is necessary to give witness, then, when one knows of any fault in a friend, one ought to rebuke him secretly—if he does not listen, one must do it openly. For rebukes are good, and often better than a silent friendship. Even if a friend thinks himself hurt, still rebuke him; and if the bitterness of the correction wounds his mind, still rebuke him and fear not. The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of flatterers (Prov. 27.6). Rebuke, then, your erring friend; forsake not an innocent one. For friendship ought to be steadfast and to rest firm in true affection. We ought not to change our friends in childish fashion at some idle fancy.

Open your breast to a friend that he may be faithful to you, and that you may receive from him the delight of your life. For a faithful friend is the medicine of life and the grace of immortality (Sirach 6.16). Give way to a friend as to an equal, and be not ashamed to be beforehand with your friend in doing kindly duties. For friendship knows nothing of price. So the wise man says: Do not blush to greet a friend (Sirach 22.25). Do not desert a friend in time of need, nor forsake him nor fail him, for friendship is the support of life. Let us then bear our burdens as the Apostle has taught (Gal. 6.2): for he spoke to those whom the charity of the same one body had embraced together. If friends in prosperity help friends, why do they not also in times of adversity offer their support? Let us aid by giving counsel, let us offer our best endeavors, let us sympathize with them with all our heart.

If necessary, let us endure for a friend even hardship. Often enmity has to be borne for the sake of a friend’s innocence; often times revilings, if one defends and answers for a friend who is found fault with and accused. Do not be afraid of such displeasure, for the voice of the just says: Though evil come upon me, I will endure it for a friend's sake (Sirach 22.26). In adversity, too, a friend is proved, for in prosperity all seem to be friends. But as in adversity patience and endurance are needed, so in prosperity strong influence is wanted to check and confute the arrogance of a friend who becomes overbearing. […]

Preserve, then, my sons, that friendship you have begun with your brethren, for nothing in the world is more beautiful than that. It is indeed a comfort in this life to have one to whom you can open your heart, with whom you can share confidences, and to whom you can entrust the secrets of your heart. It is a comfort to have a trusty man by your side, who will rejoice with you in prosperity, sympathize in troubles, encourage in persecution.

~St Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 3, Chapter 22


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