can friendships last?

Since friendships must sometimes come to an end, it seems fair to inquire whether or not the best friendships can endure. Opinions are varied on this topic, and can be divided into two basic groups.

The first body of opinion claims that good friendships are lasting by their very nature. This is the opinion of Aristotle, who writes that a relationship between virtuous people “lasts as long as they are good, and [that means it will last for a long time, since] goodness or virtue is a thing that lasts.” Cicero shares this sentiment; he claims that “our essential nature cannot be changed, and for that reason true friendship endures forever.” These writers believe that the very goodness of the parties involved holds a friendship together.

In contrast, the second body of thought asserts that friendships are outgrown because no two persons are perfectly suited for each other. This is the opinion of Emerson, who implies that a permanent relationship with someone else would require an abandonment of personal ideals:

Though I prize my friends, I cannot afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I lose my own. It would indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this lofty seeking… and come down to warm sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall mourn always the vanishing of my mighty gods…. So I will owe to my friends this evanescent intercourse.

Emerson hints at the idea that his highest priority is a spiritual one, a priority that is deepened when viewed in the light of a Christian’s journey to God. Robert Hugh Benson speaks of human friendships as temporary relations through which we seek a divine friendship:

We form friendships, and grow out of them. It might almost be said that we cannot retain the faculty of friendship unless we are continually making new friends: just as, in religion, in proportion as we form inadequate images and ideas of the divine which for the time we adore, and presently change for others, we progress in the knowledge of the true God…
Here then is one of the more princely passions which… points to eternity only for the place of its satisfaction, and to the divine love for the answering of its human needs.

In the Christian tradition, it is ultimately a relationship with the divine that all people seek because this is the only type of friendship that will truly satisfy the human heart.

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