Before leaving Augustine of Hippo, we do well to look at a different but equally deep heart-friendship which meant the world to him: the bond with his mother, Monica.
She was a committed Christian when Augustine was growing up; she counselled him as a youth to avoid adultery; suffered in secret, "her tears watering the ground" [Augustine's retrospective words] as he indulged his sinful passions; and sought to enlist a bishop's help when her son got involved with a heretical sect. When finally Augustine turned to Christ in Milan, Monica was there at his baptism. Then, at 56, Monica died. Augustine recalls one of their last meetings, at Ostia, the port of Rome.
We were alone and talked together, and very sweet it was. We discussed what the eternal life of the saints could be like... With the mouth of our hearts we thirsted for the heavenly streams of His fountain, the fountain of life. Then, as our affections burned still more strongly towards [God], we rose higher and transcended our souls. As we talked, yearning towards this heavenly Wisdom, we did just lightly come into contact with it.
Here we have, encapsulated, the meaning of true Christian friendship as Augustine viewed it: two hearts united in one heavenly vision, helping one another on to discover more of God's infinite love. When Monica died, Augutine's life was, 'as it were, torn apart, since it had been a life made up of hers and mine together'.
Church historian Henry Chadwick believes that Monica was Augustine's "supreme friend". From her he developed his great capacity for intimate friendships with both men and women. The 19th century father of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, had a field day with this and attributed Augustine's friendship emphasis to an over-developed feminine side to his nature. This, however, is 19th century thinking and in no way the ethos of the late 4th century. It also misses the fact that Augustine had a full-blooded male libido throughout his twenties and prior to his conversion.
We do better to see in the Augustine-Monica relationship the enriching power of friendship across the generations. This is, sadly, the exception rather than the norm today. Many people will have positive memories of grandparents, but this will probably have been at a level of kindness and generosity, not a cultivated, honest mentorship. And we are poorer for it!
Here, Joshua Harris, a young pastor, writes about the preciousness of the mentoring relationship he had with an older 'father in the Lord'. "Looking back, I’ve become even more aware of what a rare gift God gave me in my relationship with [name]. Sadly, my experience is unique. There are many young adults who desire to sit at the feet of mature Christians. But how many older Christians are willing to let them sit there?" And here, John Piper offers advice to younger friends on how to encourage and not idolise a father-friend figure of an older generation.