De Officiis 21-22
on Friendship

(NPNF 2ser. vol. 10) PL 16. 178-185

 Ambrose, mosaic, Milan Cathedral, ca. 420.

 Ambrose on Friendship






Three Books on the Duties of the Clergy
BOOK 3 (NPNF 2ser. vol. 10) PL 16. 178-185












Esther in danger of her life followed the grace of virtue; nay, even a heathen king did so, when death was threatened to a man most friendly to him, For friendship must ever be combined with virtue, as the examples of Jonathan and Ahimelech show.

Esther vitae periculo honestatis decus secutam esse, immo et regem barbarum, illata nece viro amicissimo; amicitiam enim honestati semper conjungendam, ut Jonathae atque Alchimelech exempla probant.





123. WHY did Queen Esther (Esther 4:16) expose herself to death and not fear the wrath of a fierce king? Was it not to save her people from death, an act both seemly and virtuous? The king of Persia himself also, though fierce and proud, yet thought it seemly to show honor to the man who had given information about a plot which had been laid against himself, (Esther 4:10) to save a free people from slavery, to snatch them from death, and not to spare him who had pressed on such unseemly plans. So finally he handed over to the gallows (Esther 7:9, Esther 7:10) the man that stood second to himself, and whom he counted chief among all his friends, because he considered that he had dishonored him by his false counsels.

123. Quid Esther regina, nonne ut populum suum periculo exueret, quod erat decorum atque [179C] honestum, morti se obtulit, nec immitis regis trepidavit furorem (Esther IV, 16)? Ipse quoque rex Persarum ferox, atque tumido corde, tamen decorum judicavit indici insidiarum quae sibi paratae forent, gratiam repraesentare, populumque liberum a servitute eripere, eruere neci,  nec parcere ei, qui tam indecora suasisset (Esther VI, 3 et seq.). Denique quem secundum a se, ac praecipuum inter omnes amicos haberet, cruci tradidit, quod dehonestatum se ejus fraudulentis consiliis animadvertisset (Esther VII, 9).





124. For that commendable friendship which maintains virtue is to be preferred most certainly to wealth, or honors, or power. It is not wont to be preferred to virtue indeed, but to follow after it. (Cic. de Off. III:10, §43) So it was with Jonathan, (1 Sam. [1 Ki.] 30:27) who for his affection’s sake avoided not his father’s displeasure nor the danger to his own safety. So, too, it was with Ahimelech, who, to preserve the duties of hospitality, thought he must endure death rather than betray his friend when fleeing. (1 Sam. [1 Ki.] 22:17)

124. Ea enim   amicitia probabilis, quae honestatem tuetur, praeferenda sane opibus, honoribus, potestatibus: honestati vero praeferri non solet, sed honestatem sequi. Qualis fuit Jonathae, qui pro pietate [179D] nec offensam patris, nec salutis periculum refugiebat (I Reg. XX, 29 et seq.). Qualis fuit Abimelech, qui pro hospitalis gratiae officiis necem potius [180A] sui, quam proditionem fugientis amici, subeundam arbitrabatur (I Reg. XXI, 6).









Friendship is the guardian of virtues, which are not to be found but in men of like character. It must be mild in rebuking and averse to seeking its own advantage; whence it happens that true friends are scarce among the rich. What is the dignity of friendship? The treachery of a friend, as it is worse, so it is also more hateful than another’s, as is recognized from the example of Judas and of Job’s friends.

Amicitiam virtutum custodem esse, nec nisi in similium morum hominibus inveniri. Eamdem in corripiendo mitem, atque a propriis commodis alienam esse oportere; et inde quam rari divitibus veri amici! Quanta amicitiae dignitas; quae quo major, eo detestabilior amici perfidia, ut Judae atque amicorum Job exemplis cognoscitur.





No Compromise in Virtue




125. NOTHIING, 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; (Cic. de Off. 3:10) 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?

[180B] 125. Nihil igitur praeferendum honestati, quae tamen ne amicitiae studio praetereatur, etiam hoc Scriptura admonet de  amicitia. Sunt enim pleraeque philosophorum quaestiones:  utrum amici causa quisquam contra patriam sentire necne debeat, ut 3amico obediat? Utrum oporteat ut fidem deserat, dum indulget atque intendit amici commoditatibus?





Friends Willing to Accept




126. 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.

126. Et Scriptura quidem ait: Clava, et gladius, et sagitta ferrata, sic homo est testimonium dans falsum adversus amicum suum (Prov. XXV, 18). Sed considera quid astruat. Non testimonium reprehendit dictum in amicum, sed falsum testimonium. Quid enim si Dei causa, quid si patriae cogatur aliquis dicere testimonium? Numquid praeponderare debet  amicitia religioni,  praeponderare charitati civium? [180C] 139 In his tamen ipsis rebus requirenda est veritas testimonii; ne amicus appetatur amici perfidia, cujus fide absolvi debeat. Amicus itaque neque noxio gratificari debet, neque innocenti insidiari.





127. 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, (Cic. de Off. I:17) 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, thy erring friend; forsake not an innocent one. For friendship ought to be steadfast (Cic. de Amic. 19, §67) and to rest firm in true affection. We ought not to change our friends in childish fashion at some idle fancy.

127. Sane si necesse sit dicere testimonium, si quid in amico vitii cognoverit,  corripere occulte; si non audierit, corripere palam. Sunt enim bonae correptiones, et plerumque meliores quam tacita  amicitia. Et si laedi se putat amicus, tu tamen corripe; et si amaritudo correctionis animum ejus vulneret, tu tamen corripe, ne verearis:  Tolerabilia sunt enim amici vulnera, quam adulantium oscula (Prov. XXVII, 6). Errantem igitur amicum corripe, innocentem amicum ne deseras.  Constans enim debet esse  amicitia, perseverare in affectu; [180D] non puerili modo amicos mutare vaga quadam debemus sententia.






128. 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.” (Ecclus. 6:16)

128. Aperi  pectus tuum amico, ut fidelis sit tibi [181A] et capias ex eo vitae tua jucunditatem. Fidelis enim amicus medicamentum est vitae, et immortalitatis gratia (Eccli. VI, 16)

GIVE way to a friend as to an equal, and do not be ashamed to anticipate your friend in showing courtesy [doing kindness]. For friendship knows nothing of pride.

Defer amico ut aequali, nec te pudeat ut praevenias amicum officio;  amicitia enim nescit superbiam.

So the wise man says: “Do not blush to greet a friend.” (Ecclus. 22:25)

Ideo enim Sapiens dicit: Amicum salutare non erubescas (Eccli. XXII, 31)

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 endeavours, let us sympathize with them with all our heart.

 Nec deseras amicum in necessitate, nec derelinquas eum, neque destituas; quoniam  amicitia vitae adjumentum est. Ideo onera nostra portemus, sicut Apostolus docuit (Galat. VI, 2); dicit enim his  quos ejusdem corporis complexa est charitas. Etenim si amici secundae res amicos adjuvant, cur non et in adversis amici rebus amicorum adjumentum suppetat? Juvemus consilio, conferamus studia, compatiamur affectu.





129. IF necessary, let us endure for a friend even hardship. Often enmity has to be borne for the sake of a friend’s innocence; oftentimes 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.” (Ecclus. 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.

[181B] 129. Si necesse est, toleremus propter amicum etiam aspera. Plerumque inimicitiae subeundae sunt propter amici innocentiam, saepe obtrectationes, si restiteris vel responderis, cum amicus arguitur et accusatur. Nec te poeniteat ejusmodi offensionis; justi enim vox est: Etsi mala mihi evenerint propter amicum, sustineo (Eccli. XXII, 31). In adversis enim amicus probatur; nam in prosperis amici omnes videntur. Sed ut in adversis amici patientia et tolerantia necessaria, sic in prosperis auctoritas congrua est; ut insolentiam extollentis se amici reprimat et redarguat.





130. How nobly Job when he was in adversity said: “Pity me, my friends, pity me.” (Job. 19:21) That is not a cry as it were of misery, but rather one of blame. For when he was unjustly reproached by his friends, he answered: “Pity me, my friends,” that is, ye ought to show pity, but instead ye assail and overwhelm a man with whose sufferings ye ought to show sympathy for friendship’s sake.

130. Quam pulchre in adversis positus Job dicit: Miseremini mei, amici, miseremini (Job. XIX, 21). Non quasi abjecta vox ista est, sed quasi censoria. [181C] Nam cum injuste argueretur ab amicis, respondit: Miseremini mei, amici; hoc est, misericordiam debetis facere: opprimitis autem vos et impugnatis hominem, cujus aerumnis compati 140 pro  amicitia vos oportebat.









131. Preserve, then, my sons, that friendship ye 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 thou canst open thy heart, (Cic. de Amic. 6, §22) with whom thou canst share confidences, and to whom thou canst entrust the secrets of thy heart. It is a comfort to have a trusty man by thy side, who will rejoice with thee in prosperity, sympathize in troubles, encourage in persecution. What good friends those Hebrew children were whom the flames of the fiery furnace did not separate from their love of each other! (Dan. 3:16 ff) Of them we have already spoken. Holy David says well: “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant, inseparable in their life, in death they were not divided.” (2 Sam. [2 Ki.] 1:23)

131. Servate igitur, filii, initam cum fratribus amicitiam, qua nihil est in rebus humanis pulchrius.  Solatium quippe vitae hujus est, ut habeas cui pectus aperias tuum, cum quo arcana participes, cui committas secretum pectoris tui; ut colloces tibi fidelem virum, qui in prosperis gratuletur tibi, in tristibus compatiatur, in persecutionibus adhortetur. Quam boni amici Hebraei pueri, quos a sui [182A] amore nec fornacis ardentis flamma divisit (Dan. III, 16 et seq.)! De quo supra diximus (Supr. c. 9). Bene ait sanctus David: Saul et Jonathas speciosi et charissimi, inseparabiles in vita sua, et in morte non sunt separati (II Reg. I, 23).









132. This is the fruit of friendship; and so faith (Cic. de Off. III:10, §44). may not be put aside for the sake of friendship. He cannot be a friend to a man who has been unfaithful to God. Friendship is the guardian of pity and the teacher of equality, so as to make the superior equal to the inferior, and the inferior to the superior. (Cic. de Amic. 19, §69) For there can be no friendship between diverse characters, (Cic. de Amic. 14, §50) and so the good-will of either ought to be mutually suited to the other. Let not authority be wanting to the inferior if the matter demands it, nor humility to the superior. Let him listen to the other as though he were of like position—an equal, and let the other warn and reprove like a friend, not from a desire to show off, but with a deep feeling of love.

132. Hic est amicitiae fructus,  ut non fides  propter amicitiam destruatur. Non potest enim homini amicus esse, qui Deo fuerit infidus. Pietatis custos  amicitia est, et aequalitatis magistra; ut superior inferiori se exhibeat aequalem, inferior superiori. Inter  dispares enim mores non potest esse  amicitia; et ideo convenire sibi utriusque debet gratia. Nec auctoritas desit inferiori, si res poposcerit, nec humilitas superiori. Audiat quasi parem, quasi aequalem: et ille quasi amicus moneat, objurget, [182B] non jactantiae studio, sed affectu charitatis.





133. Let not thy warning be harsh, nor thy rebuke bitter, (Cic. de Off. I, 38, §137) for as friendship ought to avoid flattery, so, too, ought it to be free from arrogance. For what is a friend but a partner in love, (Cic. de Amic. 21, §80) to whom thou unitest and attachest thy soul, and with whom thou blendest so as to desire from being two to become one; to whom thou entrustest thyself as to a second self, from whom thou fearest nothing, and from whom thou demandest nothing dishonourable for the sake of thine own advantage. Friendship is not meant as a source of revenue, (Cic. de Amic. 15, §51) but is full of seemliness, full of grace. Friendship is a virtue, not a way of making money. It is produced, not by money, but by esteem; not by the offer of rewards, but by a mutual rivalry in doing kindnesses.

133. Neque monitio aspera sit, neque objurgatio contumeliosa; sicut enim adulationis fugitans  amicitia debet esse, ita etiam aliena insolentiae. Quid est enim amicus, nisi consors amoris,  ad quem animum tuum adjungas atque applices, et ita misceas, ut unum velis fieri ex duobus, cui te tamquam alteri tibi committas, a quo nihil timeas, nihil ipse commodi tui causa inhonestum petas?  Non enim vectigalis  amicitia est, sed plena decoris, plena gratiae. Virtus est enim  amicitia, non quaestus; quia  non pecunia paritur, sed gratia: nec licitatione pretiorum, sed concertatione benevolentiae.





Kenotic, Self-Outpouring Honesty

in Friendship



134. Lastly, the friendships of the poor are generally better than those of the rich, (Cic. Lact. 15, §53) and often the rich are without friends, whilst the poor have many. For true friendship cannot exist where there is lying flattery. Many try fawningly to please the rich, but no one cares to make pretence to a poor man. Whatsoever is stated to a poor man is true, his friendship is free from envy.

134. Denique meliores amicitiae sunt inopum plerumque quam  divitum: et frequenter divites sine [182C] amicis sunt, quibus abundant pauperes. Non est enim vera  amicitia, ubi est fallax adulatio. Divitibus itaque plerique assentatorie gratificantur: erga pauperem  nemo simulator est. Verum est quidquid defertur pauperi, hujus  amicitia invidia vacat.





135. What is more precious than friendship which is shared alike by angels and by men? Wherefore the Lord Jesus says: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that they may receive you into eternal habitations.” (Lk 16:9) God Himself makes us friends instead of servants, as He Himself says: “Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (Jn 15:14) He gave us a pattern of friendship to follow. We are to fulfil the wish of a friend, to unfold to him our secrets which we hold in our own hearts, and are not to disregard his confidences. Let us show him our heart and he will open his to us. Therefore He says: “I have called you friends, for I have made known unto you all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father.” (Jn 15:15) A friend, then, if he is a true one, hides nothing; he pours forth his soul as the Lord Jesus poured forth the mysteries of His Father.

135. Quid  amicitia pretiosius, quae angelis communis et hominibus est? Unde et Dominus Jesus dicit: Facite vobis amicos de iniquo mammona, qui recipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula sua (Luc. XVI, 9). Ipse nos Deus amicos ex servulis facit, sicut ipse 141 ait: Jam vos amici mei estis, si feceritis quae ego praecipio vobis (Joan. XV, 14). Dedit formam amicitiae quam sequamur, ut faciamus amici voluntatem, utaperiamus [183A] secreta nostra amico quaecumque in pectore habemus, et illius arcana non ignoremus. Ostendamus illi nos pectus nostrum, et ille nobis aperiat suum. Ideo, inquit, vos dixi amicos, quia omnia quaecumque audivi a Patre meo, nota feci vobis (Joan. XV, 14). Nihil ergo occultat amicus, si verus est: effundit animum suum, sicut effundebat mysteria Patris Dominus Jesus.





136. So he who does the will of God is His friend and is honoured with this name. He who is of one mind with Him, he too is His friend. For there is unity of mind in friends, and no one is more hateful than the man that injures friendship. Hence in the traitor the Lord found this the worst point on which to condemn his treachery, namely, that he gave no sign of gratitude and had mingled the poison of malice at the table of friendship. So He says: “It was thou, a man of like mind, My guide and Mine acquaintance, who ever didst take pleasant meals with Me.” (Ps:54 [55.]:13, Ps:54 [55.]:14) That is: it could not be endured, for thou didst fall upon Him Who granted grace to thee. “For if My enemy had reproached Me I could have borne it, (Ps:54 [55.]:12) and I would have hid Myself from him who hated Me.” An enemy can be avoided; a friend cannot, if he desires to lay a plot. Let us guard against him to whom we do not entrust our plans; we cannot guard against him to whom we have already entrusted them. And so to show up all the hatefulness of the sin He did not say: Thou, My servant, My apostle; but thou, a man of like mind with Me; that is: thou art not My but thy own betrayer, for thou didst betray a man of like mind with thyself.

136. Ergo qui facit mandata Dei, amicus est; et hoc honoratur nomine. Qui est unanimis, ipse amicus est: quod unitas animorum in amicis sit: neque quisquam detestabilior, quam qui amicitiam laeserit. Unde in proditore Dominus hoc gravissimum invenit, quod ejus condemnaret perfidiam, quod gratiae vicem non repraesentaverit, et conviviis amicitiae [183B] venenum malitiae miscuerit.  Itaque sic ait: Tu vero homo unanimis, dux meus et notus meus, qui semper mecum dulces capiebas cibos (Psal. LIV, 14)! Hoc est, non potest sustineri istud, quia unanimis appetisti eum, qui tibi donaverat gratiam: Nam si inimicus meus maledixisset mihi, sustinuissem utique (Ibid., 13); et ab eo qui me oderat, [184A] absconderem me. Inimicus vitari potest, amicus non potest, si insidiari velit. Illum cavemus cui non committimus consilia nostra: hunc cavere non possumus, cui commisimus. Itaque ad acervandam peccati invidiam non dixit: Tu vero servus meus, apostolus meus; sed: Unanimis meus; hoc est, non meus, sed etiam tuus proditor es, qui unanimem prodidisti.





137. The Lord Himself, when He was displeased with the three princes who had not deferred to holy Job, wished to pardon them through their friend, so that the prayer of friendship might win remission of sins. Therefore Job asked and God pardoned. Friendship helped them whom arrogance had harmed. (Job 43:7, Job 42:8)

137. Dominus ipse cum a tribus regibus offensus esset, qui sancto Job non detulissent, ignoscere his per amicum maluit, ut amicitiae suffragium remissio fieret peccatorum. Itaque rogavit Job, et Dominus ignovit. Profuit illis  amicitia, quibus obfuerat insolentia (Job, XLII, 7 et seq.).





138. These things I have left with you, my children, that you may guard them in your minds—you yourselves will prove whether they will be of any advantage. Meanwhile they offer you a large number of examples, for almost all the examples drawn from our forefathers, and also many a word of theirs, are included within these three books; so that, although the language may not be graceful, yet a succession of old-time examples set down in such small compass may offer much instruction.

CONCLUSIO. 138. Haec apud vos deposui, filii, quae custodiatis [184B] in animis vestris: quae utrum aliquid profectus habeant, vos probabitis; interim copiam multam exemplorum offerunt: nam prope omnia Majorum exempla, plurima quoque dicta his tribus inclusa libris tenentur; ut et si sermo nihil deferat gratiae, series tamen vetustatis quodam compendio expressa plurimum instructionis conferat.





This text is reproduced in Themes with a selection from Cassians 16th Conference

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