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Thomas Loy

Friendship in late antiquity. The transformation of classical conceptions of friendship under the influence of christianity

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June 2006:                       PhD Candidate:

Friendship in late antiquity. The transformation of classical conceptions of friendship under the influence of christianity “

2005: Staatsexamen in History, Theology and French Studies

with the thesis “Platonic Protest?”, that was supervised by Prof. Dr. Heribert Smolinsky and which treated German and French catholic bishops and their behaviour during the Holocaust in Europe.

2003/04: Academic Year in France

Studies in French Language and Literature, History of Islam (Université Paris VII), Ancient Christian History and Theology (Institut Catholique de Paris).

1999-2005: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Studies in French Language and Literature, Catholic Theology and History.


PhD Thesis Project: Friendship in late antiquity. The transformation of classical conceptions of friendship under the influence of christianity

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Aloys Winterling (HU Berlin); Prof. Dr. Stefan Rebenich (Bern)

Tutor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Zotz (Freiburg)

This dissertation deals with the transformation of the antique friendship and patronage relationship under the influence of Christianity in late antiquity.

In this time of vast social change and disintegration of the political order of the Roman Empire, the thinking was more and more influenced by christian ideas and opinions, a fact, which had also momentous consequences for the conceptions of friendship and patronage. Even though christian authors of this time were convinced of the antique pagan traditions, changed the semantic of friendship and patronage in a strong way, because it was now interpreted in an new religious, namely christian way.

Due to that fact it is necessary to dedicate one part of this work to the conceptions of amicitia as they were developed in classical time. For Aristotle and Cicero dealed hugely with this theme, they will be used an example for the classical pagan conception. Already Aristotle described friendship based on mutual admiration as the best and most perfect kind of friendship because it is based on an admiration for the qualities of the friend’s character. Nevertheless it overlaps with the two other types he names (relationship based on mutual advantage and relationship based on mutual pleasure). He denominates one’s friend as other self and declares that true friendship could only exist in a congeneric way of self-actualisation. Someone’s own self can only be found when it is rediscovered in a friend.

This greek opinion Cicero communicated in antique Rome, where the idea of friendship was stamped by the relationship between patrons and clients. It was Cicero, who gave to friendship a philosophical superstructure and qualified it in a different way. By then friendship was orientated to mutual practical interests of those involved in the relationship. In his Laelius he defines amicitia as “omnium divinum et humanorumque rerum cum benvolentia et caritate consensio” (Lael. 20). Now, virtue serves as the base of an true and enduring friendship. If this reference to virtue lacks and if friendship is misinterpreted as a blind loyality toward another person, friendship could also be a danger for the state.

In the 5th century AD Augustine adopts this definition and transformed it in a christian way.

Augustine is considered as one of the most distinguished authors of his time and he sticks out of the philosophical, philological and theological leaders of this époque. In all this domains his influence could not be underestimated, and that is why I have chosen his work as matter of the dissertation.  His intellectual evolution preludes the transition from the ancient time to the Middle Ages and it was him, who communicated the antique pagan conceptions of friendship to the Middle Ages and who simultaneously combined them with biblical and christian ideas. Although he considered none of his scriptures to friendship, an augustinian conception could be reconstructed. In his conception he harks back to ancient pagan thoughts which he puts under the light of the Bible. The objective of this dissertation is, to show how Augustine used the ancient pagan conception for his own thoughts, how he transformed them and which was the changement in the semantic of friendship in the late antiquity under the influence of Christianity. It will be interesting to see how Augustine deals with the christian claim of charity and of loving even one’s enemies.

A second aspect will also be treated in this dissertation: The transformation of classical relationship between patrons and clients. On one hand, several patrons became more and more influent in the appointment of offices within the church, and on the other hand one can find similar structures in secular patronage and in the new christian worship of martyrs and saints.

These saints now adopt the function of the pagan patrons in kingdom come. Christian worship is interpreted as obsequia religiosorum and it is because of the intercession of the saints that God spends his beneficia to men. Already the linguistic borrowings from the pagan terminology are evident – and again it is Augustine who underpins the function of the saints as intercessores in his De Civitate Dei. The Christianisation of the pagan patronage system was accompanied by the patronisation of christian worship.

Methodically this dissertation inquires for the relation between the structure of society and semantic, a sociological differentiation which was prominently represented by Niklas Luhmann. So the dissertation will answer the question if there are any relations between the particular structures of society and semantic and what are the consequences of this relations regarding to the conceptions of friendship.

  • Postadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    c/o Historisches Seminar
    Rempartstr. 15 - KG IV
    79085 Freiburg 
  • Besuchsadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    Erbprinzenstraße 13
    79098 Freiburg
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