Date of Award

Fall 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Theology (ThD)

First Advisor

Rev. Francis Berna, IVD, PhD

Second Advisor

Rev. Kevin O'Neill, CSsR, STD

Third Advisor

Johann Vento, PhD




Karl Rahner, a twentieth century theologian and Jesuit priest, tells us that all human beings, whether consciously or unconsciously, live in the presence of God. From ancient times one avenue where women and men have been able to experience that presence is in the context of friendship. Accordingly, this dissertation assumes that there is an inherent mystical dimension in the very nature of friendship whether or not the individuals engaged in the friendship are conscious of it. This dissertation also contends that these “spiritual” friendships are imbued with theological attributes that demonstrate God’s participation and presence. The inquiry will focus on the lives of saints and mystics in Christian history and investigate the characteristics embedded within the very nature of their spiritual friendships, seeking to identify and explore these attributes in light of their mystical dimension. The thesis makes the claim that there is an intrinsic mystical value to spiritual friendship that serves as a specific conduit for God’s self-disclosure to humanity and finds expression by bringing Christ to birth in the world in myriad ways.

Using Aelred of Rievaulx’s classical work Spiritual Friendship to anchor the research, the paper will explore the characteristics of friendship to develop an understanding of Aelred’s belief that the love of friends is necessary if we are to truly love God, as well as Aelred’s claim that “God is friendship”[1] The following chapters will discuss various aspects of friendship using saints and mystics as examples of rightly ordered friendship highlighting their relationships and the role those relationships played in each one’s personal and spiritual development. The research seeks to further develop an understanding of spiritual friendship by discerning its mystical character, with specific interest in its Trinitarian, sacramental, and incarnational aspects. A key component of the work connects and integrates the research to demonstrate how a mystical dimension is subsumed in friendship and expressed in the ordinariness of daily life. Correlation of the spirituality of friendship and its mystical dimension is supported using Karl Rahner’s theologies of grace, the human experience of God, love of God and neighbor, and mysticism of everyday life.

. The dissertation argues that there is a spirituality embedded within the context of friendship that not only provides deep bonds with other human beings but also that these bonds are a special conduit for God’s interaction with humanity. Individuals who engage in this type of relationship are modern day mystics and these friendships serve as a means for an experience of God in everyday life. While there is no in-depth treatment of any contemporary application, the research anticipates that spiritual friendships can have a positive effect in the area of enhancing a person’s Christian spiritual journey and personal spiritual growth.

[1] Aelred, Cistercian Fathers Series, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker, vol. 5, Spiritual Friendship (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1974), 21.


Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Theology

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