Friendship and the mutual pursuit of virtue

One of my favorite Internet sites is Catholic World Report.  This morning a wonderful essay by Christopher S. Morrissey entitled “Love and Friendship and the Holy Folly of the 12 Commandments.”

Kate Beckinsale’s masterful performance as the charming but amoral Lady Susan Vernon in Whit Stillman’s hilarious Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship is a rare cinematic experience. Its memory stays with you long after viewing the film. While Stillman’s screenplay takes its inspiration, and plunders all the best lines, from Austen’s Lady Susan, her epistolary account of Susan, he has suggestively given his own version a title from another piece of Austen’s juvenilia: “Love & Freindship” [sic].

The “friendship” in the title of his film ostensibly refers to the relationship Lady Susan has with her confidant Mrs. Alicia Johnson (played by Chloë Sevigny), the only other soul who really knows her, and with whom she discusses her “love” affairs. These “love” affairs include not just finding a husband, whether for herself or for her daughter, but also adultery.

Aristotle famously defined true friendship as being unlike the lesser “friendships” founded on utility or pleasure. True friendship is the type of friendship that is founded on the mutual pursuit of virtue — which would immediately disqualify the highly refined wickedness shared by Susan and Alicia. The title of the film thus immediately announces an irony with which all the events of the story will be suffused, as Lady Susan expertly uses her charm to simulate virtue in a diabolical way. Her schemes never fail to succeed, thanks to her unmatched ability at gaslighting others.

I love this line:  “True friendship is the type of friendship that is founded on the mutual pursuit of virtue.”

I would add this, true friendship for me is founded on the mutual pursuit of ever-deeper conversion to faith in Jesus Christ so we encourage each other on the journey to holiness, pray for each other and help each other remove any obstacles to grace, any bondage to sin.



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3 Responses to Friendship and the mutual pursuit of virtue

  1. –but the virtues are similitudes of God, and so friendship for the sake of virtue has no higher goal. How is putting off the bondage to sin something other than a release into our true nature, the end of our nature, which is virtue? –to what else, other than ourselves, does Christ restore us? In restoring us to our true selves, by perfecting our nature, are we not thereby caught up into the _implicatio_ into God? (–this is what virtue is in the classical tradition, no?) Trust in Christ is laudable, but we cannot produce it in ourselves: it comes to us in the vision, in the event of recognition of the God-man. It’s not clear to me how the service of God, perfect freedom, could be something _other_ than virtue, _arete_, _vi&._, excellence.

    • Rev22:17 says:


      In this context, it’s useful to refer to the writings of the great philosophers, beginning with Plato and Aristotle, in Western culture. On the one hand, there’s the dichotomy between virtue and vice. And on the other hand, Aristotle portrays virtue as an appropriate balance between two extremes that constitute vices. There are many examples of Aristotle’s view in action.

      >> A healthy diet is the moderation between gluttony and self-starvation through anorexic or bulimic behavior.

      >> Moderate enjoyment of alcoholic beverages is the moderation between drunkenness and temperance.

      >> Driving at the speed limit (obviously, weather and road conditions permitting) is the moderation between the hazard of excess speed and the obstructive behavior of driving at significantly lower speed.

      >> An honest normal workday (typically eight hours) is the moderation between a workaholic and laziness.

      There are, of course, many more examples.


      • The mean between two extremes still holds to the idea of symmetry, balance, as perfecting.

        That’s not where I was really pushing you, however. I was challenging you both on your demotion of friendship-for-the-sake-of-virtue and your seeming elevation of faith as something other than virtue-as-similitude-to-God as the end of our nature, and faith as something we can produce in ourselves or in others, to boot.

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