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Male-Female Friendships

Started by Geremia, March 18, 2020, 06:35:17 PM

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It would seem they are not possible because St. Thomas says friendship must be based on commonalities, and men and women are different; however, he does say that a husband and wife have the highest form of friendship (SCG 3 cap. 123 [6]). See Book 8 of St. Thomas's Commentary on the Ethics, his sublime teachings on friendship.

Besides St. Thomas, the treatment of male-female (opposite-sex) friendships from the last chapter of
is quite good; it's written by a scholarly Kansan Capuchin (who knew 14 languages and criticized the post-Vatican II deforms). Although the book targets people living the chaste single life, what he says about male-female friendships applies equally well to those in any state of life:

Quote from: Dominic J. Unger, O.F.M. Cap.Is it possible for two of opposite sex, when at least one of them has resolved to lead a life of perfect chastity, to foster a friendship that will remain platonic, that will not seek special sex attraction and desire sex satisfaction? To answer that adequately we must consider the nature of friendship and its consequent joy.

Friendship is not a chance, short-lived acquaintance or companionship. Friendship is mutual love that is based on a common possession of goods or characteristics and common interests, and that wishes well to the friend and will do well by him, especially if he is in need. It is, in other words, mutual benevolence and beneficence. Benevolence supposes a sympathetic understanding between friends; beneficence calls for a spirit of sacrifice for the good of the friends. Such friendship expresses itself in these acts: a friend wills that his friend retain the good he already possesses and takes great delight in his friend's possessing that good, praises it, congratulates him on it; he desires that the friend receive all other good that he does not possess but can possess; he sorrows over the loss of any good that the friend sustained; he lends a helping hand to the friend whenever opportunity and especially need presents itself; he desires to be ever more closely united with the friend. It stands to reason that one is not a friend if he helps his "friend" to sin. To do well by a friend means to help him to be morally good and achieve his greatest happiness, and not to do him the grave spiritual harm of pushing or pulling him into sin.

Friendship is essentially in the intellectual faculties of the soul. The intellect cognizes the friend and his attributes, and the will loves them and takes delight in them. All this is possible even in the natural order, namely, without grace. But it is perfected in the supernatural order. When sanctifying grace adorns the soul, and actual grace supports the mind, and supernatural reasons motivate the will, then we have supernatural friendship. Such friendship exists, for instance, between young Catholics of the same sex. To stress the fact that friendship can exist only in the intellectual faculties and to distinguish it from sentient love, we can style it spiritual friendship.

Since man is made of body and soul, and since he has not merely intellectual faculties but also sentient faculties whereby he can cognize the physical qualities of a person and love them, man can love another with a sentient love. Sentient love is more demonstrative than spiritual love. It tends to manifest itself in external signs of affection. Such sentient love is followed by sentient delight. Both sentient love and delight are unmixed, pure, when not influenced by, or influencing, spiritual love and joy, or sexual love and pleasure. For instance, one can love and delight in the fragrance of a rose or in the sound of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, or in the touch of velvet. Such unmixed sentient love and delight is in itself morally indifferent, neither good nor bad. It becomes either good or bad according as the will uses it for a good or a bad purpose. When used for an evil purpose it is termed sensual pleasure.

Because man is a composite of body and soul, spiritual love can easily be mixed with sentient love. The step from pure spiritual love to sentient love is short and easy. Spiritual love redounds to sentient love; but sentient love can strengthen and intensify spiritual love. A mother's spiritual love and joy in meeting her daughter after a long absence redounds to sentient love and delight that expresses itself in a tender kiss and a warm embrace, and is itself strengthened by these.

There is in the sentient appetite a special appetite for using the power of sex to the fullest in the legitimate act of conjugal love and for enjoying its pleasure. Such use and enjoyment of sexual pleasure is lawful only between two who are lawfully married to each other. There is a close connection between sentient love and delight and sexual love and pleasure. Theoretically and practically they are quite distinct and may never be confused as far as moral values are concerned. And still they are closely related, because both reside in the same sentient faculty, and sexual love and pleasure can be stimulated even strongly by acts of the sentient faculties that are pleasurable, as seeing, hearing, touching, and that have by their nature at least an indirect stimulating effect on sexual pleasure. Those sentient pleasures that have scarcely even remote stimulating force on sex in normal people, but are indulged in for their own sake, not for the sake of sexual pleasure, are called sensual. These pleasures, though not sexual in themselves, and though not intended as a means to sexual pleasure, can easily lead to sexual pleasure.

Besides the localized pleasure from the sense of touch anywhere in the body, there can be a more or less general sentient delight of feeling in the whole body. This arises from the stronger motion and pressure of the blood, because of the increase of the heart beat and breathing and various reactions of the nerves and muscles. Such a delight may be caused, for instance, by one's expecting a person, or by sharply focusing a person on the imagination, and still more by the actual presence of a person that gives sentient delight, or spiritual delight that overflows into the sentient faculty. This common sentient delight, mixed with spiritual delight or unmixed, must be judged morally by the principles laid down for any sentient delight. It, too, can be related, even closely, to sexual pleasure. Again, the same principles hold then as for any sentient pleasure that influences the sexual appetite or pleasure indirectly.

When the mutual love of friendship and the sentient love and delight to which it redounds are between two of opposite sex, there can be and almost always will be present, at least in a slight degree, a love of the distinctive, at least secondary, characteristics of the other sex. As is known the two sexes have different physical, mental and moral characteristics that complement each other. So if one loves someone of the other sex, his or her love will almost necessarily center somewhat on the qualities that are complementary to his or her own. Though this is neither theoretically nor practically special sexual love, it has a quality different from that between two of the same sex, precisely because it is based on the special personality traits that are due to the difference of sex and that complement one's own traits. This love could be called general sexual love or attraction.

Such general sexual love can be either spiritual or sentient or both, and the consequent delight can be spiritual or sentient or both. When one's love centers on qualities that are cognized by the senses and desired by them, namely, the physical features and qualities, then the love is sentient, and the delight consequent upon that love is sentient. For instance, a man will love in a woman her beauty, her gracefulness, her "sweet" voice. A woman will love in a man his protective strength and masculine voice. Sentient love likes to express itself externally, by kissing, embracing, and caressing. The sentient passions can and do assert themselves rather strongly, we assume here, in a good sense. Such unmixed sentient love is morally an indifferent matter, in itself neither good nor bad. It becomes either only inasmuch as the will uses it for a good or a bad end. When the will uses it to strengthen and intensify spiritual love and joy which is morally good, then sentient love and delight are good. If the will uses it to make more vehement the spiritual love and joy which are morally bad, then the sentient love is bad.

This general sexual love is spiritual when the interest is in mental or moral qualities, namely, in the qualities that are cognized by the intellect and loved by and enjoyed in the will. It is of the head and heart, inasmuch as these are symbols, respectively, of intellectual knowledge and love. The resultant joy will be truly spiritual satisfaction in the possession of its object. The will calmly enjoys the intellectual and moral, natural and supernatural, qualities of the other. When this love is unmixed with sentient love, there are no sentient or bodily demonstrations of affection. A man, for example, loves in a woman her mental intuition, her tenderness, her maternal sympathy, her generous devotion, her emotional receptivity. A woman loves in a man his calm deliberation, his creative mental energy, his courage, his paternal protective spirit. Such love is emotionally calm and reserved, though not emotionless. It enjoys the presence of the other but is not restless when absent. When this love is mutual and has all the other characteristics of true friendship, as outlined above, it is genuine, even supernatural, friendship.

It does not take very profound thinking to make one realize that, though sentient love and friendship, as just described, between two of opposite sex, are not to be confused with sexual love and pleasure in the special sense, there is a very close relation between the two, precisely because the love and joy is based on the differentiating traits of the sexes, and also because there is a close connection between the sentient love and the sexual appetite, which resides in the sentient appetite, and is readily stimulated by sentient actions.

That outline of friendship and love should help one to see what is possible and what allowed in the line of friendship and love toward one of the other sex by one who is dedicated to a single life of perfect chastity.

Let us look at the matter from the view point of the purpose of such love or friendship. There may be no friendship for the sake of dating with a view to cherishing a love that might lead to marriage. That would be directly against the promise of perfect perpetual chastity. So there may be no expressions of affection, kisses, caresses, embracing, such as are usual and legitimate between lovers. Such behavior would soon sound the death knell to interest in virginal life. Nor is there any place for flirtation by one who has determined to have only Christ as Spouse.

Again, friendship should not be sought in order to overcome the peculiar loneliness that results from the lack of a marriage partner. A certain amount of loneliness is necessarily connected with the vocation of the single life in chastity. Christ alone, who was chosen as Spouse, can fill the void of such loneliness in the human heart. If one were to seek friendship with one of the other sex to overcome that loneliness, in all probability the friendship would be very dangerous to purity, or at least it would end in marriage.

But should the single seek such friendships as a means of complementing each other's character traits? There is certainly no need for that. One's personality can be essentially quite complete without the friendship of one of the other sex. Such a friendship, on the other hand, could have some accidental benefits for character development. But that leads to the crucial question. Is such friendship possible, namely, in the spiritual field and supernatural order, which might redound to the sentient love and delight and be strengthened by these, without deteriorating into special sexual love? Some are quick to answer that such friendship is possible and practical. One might note what Canon Sheehan has to say in his excellent Triumph of Failure [p. 43]:

Quote from: Canon Sheehan's fictional novelIt has been said often, let me repeat it for the 100th time, that the best grace a young man can receive in life is the friendship of a good woman. And there is no clearer indication of the depths of vulgarity and degradation into which we have fallen than the universal idea that there can be no such friendship that does not degenerate sooner or later into sensuous affection. The universal presumption that marriage is the be-all and end-all of woman's life tends to ennervate natures that are of themselves strong and self-reliant. . . . It is impossible to calculate the heart suffering and martyrdom of women who believe they can have but one vocation in life, and whose views of men are restricted to that one idea.

All must admit, I believe, that Canon Sheehan has succeeded admirably in showing that such friendship is possible in fiction. His creation of the personality of Miss Helen Bellamy, who had no inclination to marriage, and whose friendships even with men were of the genuine intellectual and spiritual kind, is "ideal." Her friendship would be inspiring to anyone.

And still for real life one could make too general a statement about the possibility or advisability of such friendships, just as one might be too general in denouncing their possibility. A golden mean would seem to be correct. Perhaps, granted that such friendships are possible, the problem must be solved with each friendship that might arise. A person may be able to foster a friendship on the platonic plane with one, but not with another. And surely there are some emotional types that could scarcely keep a friendship with anyone of the other sex on a high plane, though they can live a chaste single life if they avoid such friendships.

One must admit, further, that, regardless of how perfect the friends are, or how lofty the motives of friendship, there are at least remote dangers in them, and one must be prudent enough to take the proper precautions and not to allow the remote dangers to become proximate, and to break off the friendship if the danger should become proximate.

It is a matter of fact that we are not living in paradise with the gift of immunity from ill-regulated passions. Though spiritual love and sentient love, held within bounds, are quite legitimate, emotion cannot be excluded from such love; and from emotion to passion is often a very short step, and slippery, because of our fallen nature with its ill-regulated passions. We have grace, thanks be to God, but grace does not free us from temptations. It helps us to overcome them. It supposes that we make the effort to avoid occasions of sin. We do not wish to say, however, that the presence of some temptations in a friendship is a sign that the friendship should be broken off immediately. There are temptations in every walk of life. And yet, when such a friendship should be a proximate occasion of losing one's vocation to the single life of perfect chastity, it must be given up. It is that, when it becomes an absorbing interest, so that one is always thinking of the friend when absent, and is restless for the friend's presence, and longs to hear the friend's voice and to see the friend's face. Then it is certainly high time to break off the friendship, because it will become more absorbing, without being able to be satisfied, short of giving up one's vocation of single chastity.

It is well to know that even though a friendship begins on a high plane of spiritual interests, it can deteriorate to sensual and even sexual interests. And the more a friendship is based on purely recreational interests, the more liable is it to deteriorate to sexual love.

Women must realize that they are physically and sexually passive in relation to man, who is active. That means that a man's sexual appetite is more easily and strongly aroused than a woman's, with the result that what may be as yet no real danger to a woman may be a proximate danger to a man. A woman may, therefore, insist that a certain friendship with a man is very platonic, but that may be only from her side. To the man it could be a proximate occasion for sexual love, and indirectly also a danger to her.

One who dedicates his life to Christ in perpetual chastity is expected to, and does, strive for greater perfection in all virtues, and should because of that be a better person in every respect. He has a more winning personality. But just that can be a very attractive bait for a friend who might still be looking for a marriage partner. A friendship with such a one would be a danger to the vocation of single chastity. It should be clear that the dangers we are speaking of are not all immediate risks to purity. They may be simply occasions for one to drift away from the ideal of a single life of chastity and end by getting a dispensation from a vow, if one was made, in order to get married.

If the friend happens to be a married person, the dangers multiply. There is then danger not merely to the two friends, but there is a liability that the partner of the married friend will be injured, or will have occasions for jealousy. And this danger is so much greater when the marriage is not proceeding too happily. So, if there would be a friendship between a single person and a married person, it should always include the partner of the married person. There may never be any so-called dates with the married person alone. It would never do for a person to promise to give up marriage for life to live in perfect chastity and then to be instrumental in breaking up the happiness of a home, because one is not generous enough to be detached from dangerous friendships. It should, of course, not even have to be mentioned that such a friendship can never be tolerated with a divorced person.

It is necessary, too, to avoid scandal in this matter. If it is known publicly that one has chosen the single life of perfect chastity, people would soon be scandalized if they would see the single person too often with "dates."

Granted, then, that a determined friendship with one of the other sex is possible, and realizing that there is always a remote danger that such a friendship may deteriorate into sensual and even sexual love if not controlled, one must be constantly on guard and train oneself well in the science of resisting the very beginnings of any temptations, especially by building up a genuine spirit of self-denial and detachment from temporal pleasures, for the sake of loving Christ more wholeheartedly. One should learn to seek consolation and friendship chiefly in Christ and His all-pure Virgin Mother. The bride of Christ may never forget that she is espoused to Christ, and has surrendered her love to Him alone.

What Canon Sheehan said in the quote above reminds me of a constant theme in Dante: Beatrice, whom Can. Sheehan would certainly call "a good woman," who leads Dante to the Blessed Virgin and ultimately to heaven (cf. McInerny's Dante & the Blessed Virgin).

Another beautiful example is the relationship between Bl. Jordan of Saxony (2nd superior general of the Dominican Order) and his spiritual daughter Bl. Diana d'Andalò (cf. Blessed Diana and Blessed Jordan: The Story of a Holy Friendship and a Successful Spiritual Direction), or the relationships of St. Jerome with Sts. Paula and Eustochium; St. Francis with St. Clare of Assisi; St. John of the Cross with St. Teresa; and St. Francis de Sales with St. Jane de Chantal. In all these cases, the friendships are very deep because they remain grounded on the spiritual plane, and they prove that true friendship can exist between unequals (male and female in this case).

Also, an interesting quote from St. Thomas's commentary on 1 Tim. 5:1-2 ("entreat...young women, as sisters, in all chastity."):
Quoteyoung women, as sisters, with the love of charity. And this in all chastity; because spiritual love toward women, without it being careful, degenerates into carnal. Therefore, in matters pertaining to young women, chastity must be applied; that is why the Apostle adds, in all chastity. Wherefore Pope Leo writing to them, says: beloved in Christ; but to men he simply says: beloved sons.
I corrected the translation (in green). I'm not sure why they thought "nisi cautus sit" means "soon"!


Although written by a Protestant (a "conservative evangelical scholar"), yet lacking in prudism and puritanicalism, this is a good more recent analysis of opposite-sex / male-female / heterosexual friendships:
He mentions Aristotle's theory of friendship, too, and cites a Catholic periodical:


Quote from: Geremia on March 18, 2020, 06:35:17 PMhusband and wife have the highest form of friendship (SCG 3 cap. 123 [6]) ["there seems to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife"]
cited in:
This article also tangentially touches upon opposite-sex friendship.


Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P. (✝1975), the Fanjeaux Dominican teaching sisters' "religious assistant for a congregation of women" (a role Pope Pius XII created in the '50s; cf. p. 97n94 of Rupture ou fidélité), gave 8 answers to the question "Pourquoi j'aime saint Dominique?" (1952). Reason #4 (one of the two longest reasons) says:

Quote4 — J'aime saint Dominique parce qu'il était d'une pureté non seulement totale mais diffusive, désirée des pauvres et redoutée des démons. Non seulement il était vierge mais, parmi les saints qui ont choisi la virginité pour être plus exclusivement à leur Seigneur, il est sans doute un des très rares qui ait aussi bien compris la femme et qui se soit comporté avec elle avec une liberté aussi simple. Cette amitié de Jésus pour Marthe et Marie, que le disciple bien-aimé évoque en des passages d'une lumière si douce, on ne peut douter qu'elle n'ait été vivante au cœur de notre père. Nous avons tous lu avec ravissement cette scène de la coupe, celle des cuillères de buis, celle – bouleversante – de la recluse dévorée par les vers, qui en sort un de sa poitrine ravagée pour le donner à notre père. Et notre père lui remet dans la main une étoile adamantine et lui rend l'intégrité de sa chair. Nous savons par la déposition des témoins de Bologne et de Toulouse comment de saintes femmes veillaient sur son temporel de pauvre et d'ascète. Nous savons comment la sainte Vierge gronda fort sévèrement cette dévote bégueule et circonspecte qui se scandalisait de voir lancer dans la prédication et les voyages apostoliques des frères tout jeunes : « Crois-tu donc, lui dit la sainte Vierge elle-même, que je ne puisse pas les garder ? » Nous savons que parmi les fondateurs d'ordres, c'est un des très rares qui ait fondé l'ordre des sœurs avant celui des pères. Ce prêtre, grand contemplatif, tendre, pitoyable et pur a compris merveilleusement la femme et c'est pourquoi la femme convertie, l'amie de la sainte Vierge, sainte Marie-Madeleine, s'est faite spontanément la protectrice de son ordre.

4 — I love Saint Dominic because he had not only a complete but a diffusive purity, desired by the poor and feared by demons. Not only was he a virgin but, among the saints who chose virginity to be more exclusively for their Lord, he is undoubtedly one of the very few who understood woman so well and who behaved with them with such simple freedom. One cannot doubt that the friendship of Jesus for Martha and Mary, which the beloved disciple [St. John] evokes in passages of such soft light, was alive in the heart of our father [St. Dominic]. We have all read with delight this scene of the cup, that of the boxwood spoons, that - overwhelming - of the recluse devoured by worms, who takes one out of her ravaged chest to give it to our father. And our father gives her an adamantine star and gives her back the integrity of her flesh. We know from the testimony of the witnesses of Bologna and Toulouse how holy women watched over his poor and ascetic temporal life. We know how the Blessed Virgin scolded very severely this stammering and circumspect devotee who was scandalized to see very young brothers launching into the preaching and apostolic journeys: "Do you believe then," said the Blessed Virgin herself, "that I cannot keep them?" We know that among the founders of orders, he is one of the very few who founded the order of sisters before that of fathers. This priest, great contemplative, tender, pitiful and pure, understood woman wonderfully, and that is why the converted woman, friend of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Mary Magdalene, spontaneously made herself the protector of his order.
Bl. Jordon of Saxony, 2nd Master General of the Dominicans, wrote in his biography of St. Dominic:
QuoteThe Death of Master Dominic
92. Meanwhile, at Bologna, Master Dominic's pilgrimage on this earth was drawing to a close and he became seriously ill. On his deathbed he summoned twelve of the more prudent brethren and, after exhorting them to be zealous in promoting the Order and persevering in holiness, he warned them against any questionable association with women, especially the young, whose attractions can be a snare for souls not solidly rooted in purity. "Behold," he said, "up to this hour the grace of God has kept my flesh unsullied; yet I confess to not escaping the fault that talks with young women affected my heart more than conversations with those who were older."  
Bl. Jordon of Saxony had a beautiful relationship with Bl. Diana d'Andolò.

Regarding wives envious of husbands' relationships with other women, St. Alphonsus of Liguori's Glories of Mary, part 1, §3 "Our Hope," §§ "Mary is the Hope of Sinners":

In the fourth part of The Treasury of the Rosary we read a story about a gentleman who was greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin. He built a special oratory in her honor in his home and he went there to pray frequently, not only during the day but even at night. His wife, a very devout woman, could not help noticing that frequently, in the dead of night, her husband rose from bed, left the room, and stayed away for a considerable time. She naturally became jealous and suspected that something was wrong. In order to settle the matter once and for all, she one day asked her husband if he loved another woman. "Yes," he replied, "I happen to be in love with the most beautiful woman in the world. I've given my heart to her and I'd rather die than stop loving her. If you knew her, you would tell me to love her even more than I do." Of course, he was referring to the Blessed Mother. But the poor wife, not knowing this, became more and more uneasy and kept questioning whether it was to visit this lady that he rose every night and left the room. Unaware how greatly disturbed his wife was, the man answered, "Yes." Misled by this answer, she fell into a fit of despair. That evening, after he had left the room, she took a knife, cut her throat, and died.

The man finished his devotions and returned to the room and found the corpse of his wife. He realized immediately that she had killed herself in a fit of jealousy. He locked the door of the room, went back to the chapel, and fell on his knees before the statue of Mary. "Mother," he said in the midst of his sobs, "see what I have done. You must help me. Think of it! Because I came to honor you, I find my wife dead and condemned to hell for all eternity. Mother, you can set matters straight! Please do so!"

No sooner had he finished this prayer than he heard one of the maids calling him. "Go to your room, sir," the servant was saying; "your wife is calling for you." The gentleman could hardly believe his ears. "Go back and see if she really wants me," he said to the maid. When she returned with the same message, the man went up to the room, unlocked the door and found his wife alive. The poor woman was greatly disturbed and, in the midst of tears, begged her husband's pardon. "Forgive me for my suspicions," she said. "Because of your prayers to the Blessed Mother, she has rescued me from hell." Weeping now for joy, both of them went back to the chapel to give thanks to Mary. The following day, the gentleman gave a banquet for all his relatives and at the banquet requested his wife to tell the whole story. She did so and even showed them the scar on her neck as proof. All who heard her were inflamed with love for the merciful Mother of God.23


Paul M. Conner, O.P.'s Celibate Love is a very good treatment of this topic, despite being written post-Vatican II, in 1978.


Take this short survey on friendship and adultery, and see the results.

The questions come from Lampe 1985, who interestingly argues that the lack of a social category for "opposite-sex friendship with a married person" (because it's often seen as adulterous) might "actually be causally related to at least some adultery". Lampe also says:
QuoteThere have been historical instances when close friendships, both same-sex and cross-sex, have been discouraged for fear they could develop into sexual relationships. Such instances, however, are reflective of Jansenism (heresy) and are contrary to the original and earlier tradition.