Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
When a train is ready to leave, normal procedure requires both engineer and passengers to be in their proper places, and the conductor to signal for departure. Only then can the train begin to roll.
So also, at the outset of an intellectual work it is customary to set forth preliminary principles and explain, if need be, the logical criteria that justify them. Only then may the author pass on to the doctrinal part.
However, if a number of readers are suspicious of the subject to be dealt with, or even have deep-rooted prejudices against it, the situation is like that of an engineer who notices that although the passengers are already seated, the tracks ahead are blocked.
The trip cannot begin without the removal of the obstructions.
In a similar way, the obstacles the present work will encounter—the prejudices that fill the minds of numerous readers regarding the nobility and analogous traditional elites—are so great that the topic can only be treated after their removal.
This explains the unusual title and content of this first chapter.
1. Without Detriment to a Just and Ample Action on Behalf of the Working Class, an Opportune Action in Favor of Elites
Much is said today regarding the demands to meet the social needs of workers. In principle, this solicitude is highly commendable and deserves the support of every upright soul.
However, to favor only the working class while neglecting the problems and needs of other classes, often just as harshly affected by the great contemporary crisis, is tantamount to forgetting that society includes not just manual laborers but various classes, each with its specific functions, rights, and duties. The formation of a global classless society is a utopia that has been the unvarying theme of the successive egalitarian movements arising in Christian Europe since the fifteenth century. In our day, this utopia is heralded mainly by socialists, communists, and anarchists.5
The TFPs and TFP Bureaus throughout Europe, the Americas, Oceania, Asia, and Africa support all just improvements for the working class. But they cannot accept the notion that these improvements imply the eradication of other classes or such reduction of their specific status, duties, rights, and functions as would lead to their virtual extinction in the name of the common good. Trying to solve social questions by leveling all classes for the apparent benefit of one class is to provoke genuine class struggle. To suppress all classes for the exclusive benefit of one, the working class, leaves the others no alternative but legitimate self-defense or death.
The TFPs cannot endorse this process of social leveling. In contradistinction to the proponents of class struggle, and in cooperation with the multiple initiatives underway today in favor of social peace through a just and needed advancement of the workers, all conscientious contemporaries must develop an action in favor of social order, opposing the socialist and communist action, which aims to create social friction and, ultimately, unleash class warfare.
The survival of social order requires that the right of each class to what it needs to live in dignity be recognized and that each class be able to fulfill its obligations to the common good.
In other words, action in favor of the workers must be coupled with a complementary action in favor of the elites.
The Church’s interest in social questions does not stem from an exclusive love of the working class. The Church is not a labor party. She loves justice and charity more than She loves any specific class, and She strives to establish these virtues among men. For this reason, She loves all social classes, including the nobility, so besieged by egalitarian demagogues.6
These reflections naturally lead the reader to the subject of this book. On the one hand, it is evident that Pius XII recognizes that the nobility has a significant and specific mission in contemporary society, a mission shared in considerable measure by the other social elites, as will be discussed later.
This concept is taught in the Sovereign Pontiff’s fourteen masterful allocutions delivered in audiences granted the Roman Patriciate and Nobility7 on the occasion of their New Years’ greetings from 1940 through 1952 and again in 1958.8
On the other hand, no one can ignore the vast and multifaceted offensive underway in today’s world to abase and eradicate the nobility and other elites. One need only consider the overpowering, relentless, and pervasive pressures to ignore, contest, or diminish their roles.
In this light, action on behalf of the nobility and the elites is more opportune than ever. Thus we affirm, with serene courage, that in our day and age, when the preferential option for the poor has become so necessary, a preferential option for the nobility has become indispensable as well. Of course, we include in this expression other traditional elites, which are worthy of support and in danger of disappearing.
This affirmation may seem absurd since in theory the worker’s condition is closer to poverty than is the noble’s, and since, as is commonly known, many nobles possess large fortunes.
Large fortunes, yes. But these are generally eroded by crushing taxes, giving rise to the distressing spectacle of lords compelled to transform substantial parts of their manors and mansions into hotels or inns, while they occupy only a fraction of the family home; or, into manors where the lord serves as curator and guide, if not bartender, while his spouse feverishly applies herself to often menial chores to keep their ancestral home clean and presentable.
This persecution advances by other means as well, such as the extinction of the rights of primogeniture and the compulsory division of inheritances. Is not a preferential option for the nobility required to counteract this offensive?
If the nobility is regarded as an inherently parasitic class of profligates, the answer is no. However, Pius XII rejected this caricature of the nobility, which is part of the black legend spread by the French Revolution and those that followed it in Europe and the world. While clearly stating that abuses and excesses deserving history’s censure have occurred in noble circles, he nevertheless affirms, in moving terms, the existence of a harmony between the nobility’s mission and the natural order instituted by God Himself, as well as the elevated and beneficial character of this mission.9
2. Nobility: A Species Within the Genus “Traditional Elites”
The expression “traditional elites” appears frequently throughout this work. We use this term to designate a socioeconomic reality that may be described as follows:
According to the pontifical texts discussed hereafter, the nobility is an elite from every point of view. It is the highest elite, not the sole elite. It is a species within the genus “elites.”
Some elites derive their status from sharing in the specific functions and features of the nobility. Others, although engaged in other functions, also enjoy a special dignity. There are elites, then, that are neither noble nor hereditary ex natura propria.
For example, a university professorship in itself introduces its holder into what can be called the nation’s elite. The same holds true for a military commission, a diplomatic office, and comparable positions.
While the exercise of these activities is not a privilege of the nobility today, the number of nobles engaged in them is not small. Obviously these nobles do not relinquish their status by doing so. On the contrary, they bring to these activities the excellence of the attributes specific to the nobility.10
When enumerating elites one should not overlook those that give impulse to the nation’s economy through industry and commerce. These activities are not only legitimate and dignified, but manifestly useful. Their immediate and specific goal, however, is the enrichment of those who practice them. In other words, it is by enriching themselves that these individuals, in a collateral way, enrich the nation. In itself, this is not sufficient to confer nobiliary character. Only a special dedication to the common good—particularly to its most precious element, the Christian character of civilization—can confer nobiliary splendor on an elite.
Nevertheless, this splendor will shine in industrialists or merchants who, in the pursuit of their activities, render noteworthy services to the common good with significant sacrifice of their legitimate personal interests.
Moreover, should the interplay of circumstances enable a non-noble family to render such services for several generations, this alone may well be considered sufficient to elevate that lineage to noble status.
Something of this sort occurred with the Venetian nobility, which was largely made up of merchants. This class governed the Most Serene Republic and, consequently, held in its hands the common good of the State, which it raised to the rank of an international power. It is not surprising, therefore, that these merchants attained the status of nobles. They did this so effectively and authentically that they assimilated the elevated cultural tone and manners of the best military and feudal nobility.
There are, on the other hand, traditional elites based from their onset upon aptitudes and virtues transmitted through genetic continuity, or through the family environment and education.11
A traditional elite arises when this transmission bears fruit and, consequently, families—and not rarely large groups of families—distinguish themselves from generation to generation through signal services to the common good. The precious attribute of traditionality is in this way added to the status of this elite. Frequently these elites do not formally constitute a noble class merely because the law in many countries, in accordance with the doctrines of the French Revolution, forbids the granting of noble titles by public authority. This is the case not only in certain European countries, but also in the Americas.
Nonetheless, pontifical teachings on the nobility are largely applicable to these traditional elites by virtue of their analogous roles. For this reason these teachings are both important and timely for those who bear authentic and lofty family traditions, even when not adorned by a title. They have a noble mission in favor of the common good and Christian civilization in their respective countries.
The same can be said, mutatis mutandis, of the nontraditional elites as they become traditional.
3. Objections to the Nobility Imbued with the Egalitarian Spirit of the French Revolution
Nobility, elites. Why does this book only deal with them? Such will be, no doubt, the objection raised by egalitarian readers, who are ipso facto hostile to the nobility.
Contemporary society is saturated with radically egalitarian prejudices. Sometimes these are consciously or unconsciously harbored even by people belonging to sectors of opinion where one would expect to find unanimity in the opposite vein. Such is the case with members of the clergy who are enthusiasts of the revolutionary trilogy, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, heedless of the fact that it was originally interpreted in a sense frontally opposed to Catholic doctrine.12
If such egalitarian dissonance is found in clerical circles, one should not be surprised that it also occurs among nobles and members of other traditional elites. With the recent bicentennial of the French Revolution fresh in our memories, these reflections readily recall the revolutionary noble par excellence, Philippe Egalité, Duke of Orleans. To this day, his example has not ceased to inspire emulators in more than one illustrious lineage.
In 1891, when Leo XIII published his famous encyclical Rerum novarum on the condition of the working class, certain capitalist circles objected that relations between capital and labor, being a specifically economic matter, were no concern of the Roman Pontiff. They suggested that his encyclical encroached on their domain.
Today, some readers might wonder why a Pope should concern himself with the nobility and elites, traditional or otherwise. Their mere survival in our changed times might seem to these readers an archaic and useless outgrowth of the feudal era. From this perspective, the nobility and contemporary elites are nothing more than the embodiment of certain ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that man can no longer appreciate or even comprehend.
These readers deem that the few who still value elites are inspired by empty aesthetic or romantic sentiments, and that the people who pride themselves on being part of the elites have succumbed to arrogance and vanity. These readers, convinced that nothing will prevent the inevitable march of history from eradicating such obsolete malignancies from the face of the earth, conclude that if Pius XII would not foster the march of history thus understood, at least he ought not put obstacles in its way.
Why, then, did Pius XII address this subject so extensively and in a way so agreeable to Counter-revolutionary minds, such as that of this author, who has assembled these teachings, annotated them, and now offers them to the public? Would it not have been better for the Pontiff to have remained silent?
The answer to such egalitarian objections imbued with the spirit of 1789 is simple. People who wish to know the answer can do no better than to hear it from the authoritative lips of Pius XII himself. In his allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, Pius XII points out, with an extraordinary gift for synthesis, the profound moral significance of his intervention in the matter, as we shall see.13 He also highlights the legitimate role of the nobility according to social doctrine inspired by Natural Law and Revelation. At the same time, he describes the richness of soul that became their hallmark in the Christian past. Confirming their continued guardianship of that treasure, the Pontiff proclaims their lofty mission of affirming and radiating this rich legacy throughout the contemporary world. This remains the case despite the devastating effects of the ideological revolutions, world wars, and socioeconomic crises that have reduced many nobles to modest circumstances. Repeatedly the Pontiff reminds them that, much to their honor, their situation is similar to that of Saint Joseph, at once a Prince of the House of David, a simple carpenter, and, above all, the legal father of the Word Incarnate and chaste spouse of the Queen of all Angels and Saints.14
4. The Teachings of Pius XII: A Precious Shield Against the Opponents of Nobility
Some readers among the nobility may wonder what the reading of this study can possibly avail them. They might ask themselves, “Have we not already received most of these teachings in the venerable environment of our fathers’ homes, rich in elevated traditions of a formative and moral nature? Have we not practiced them throughout our lives, with our gaze set on our forefathers’ example?”
We could easily answer this objection by saying that the religious root of these duties and their basis in pontifical documents might not have been clear enough to them. They, in turn, might reply, “How can the knowledge of these teachings be a source of spiritual enrichment for us, since the legacy of our ancestors has proven sufficient to guide our lives in a genuinely aristocratic and Christian way?”
An aristocrat who, alleging these reasons, shuns as useless the study of the perennial teachings of Pius XII on the Roman Nobility—which are relevant to the entire European nobility—would show signs of superficiality, both of spirit and of religious formation.
If the moral integrity of a Catholic is not based on a lucid and loving knowledge of the Church’s teachings, and a deeply rooted adherence to them, it lacks a solid foundation. Thus it risks sudden ruin, especially in today’s post-Christian society, so troubled and saturated with incitements to sin and social revolution. To resist the seduction and pressures of this society, the gentle and profound influence of family formation is not sufficient without the support of the teachings of the Faith, observance of the Commandments, steadfast piety, and frequent recourse to the Sacraments.
From this perspective, it is a great encouragement for the truly Catholic aristocrat to know that his traditional way of thinking, feeling, and acting is solidly founded on the teachings of the Vicar of Christ. This encouragement is all the more timely in this age of neopagan “democratism,” which victimizes the aristocrat with misunderstanding, criticism, and even sarcasm. This persecution is so persistent that it may expose him to the temptation of feeling ashamed of his noble status. Consequently, the aristocrat can easily harbor the desire of withdrawing from his uncomfortable situation by implicitly or explicitly renouncing his noble state.
The teachings of Pius XII transcribed and analyzed in these pages will serve him as a sturdy shield against his relentless adversaries. They will be forced to admit that a noble who is true to himself, to his Faith, and to his traditions is not an eccentric who simply concocted the convictions and lifestyle that distinguish him. Rather, these will be understood to spring from an immensely more elevated and universal source, the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.
Although opponents of the nobility may hate such teachings, they cannot reduce them to the category of mere personal speculations of a crank or quixotic paladin of things gone forever.
While this may not convince someone who objects to these ideas, it will curb the boldness and impact of his attack and prove a great polemical advantage to the defenders of the nobility and traditional elites. This is true, above all, when the maligner of the noble class is a Catholic layman or—pro dolor!—a priest.
Such opposition is not unlikely, given the tragic crisis affecting the Church.15
Paul VI referred to this crisis as a “self-demolition,” and he expressed his feeling that “Satan’s smoke has made its way into the temple of God.”16
Nor is it unlikely that opponents of the nobility and other traditional or even nontraditional elites may misuse Sacred Scripture to support their argument. In such cases, it is important for nobles and members of other elites to rely on the teachings of Pius XII, his predecessors, and successors, thus placing their opponents in the harsh predicament of either recanting their error or admitting that they are in open contradiction with the pontifical teachings cited in this work.
5. Intuitive and Implicit Notions Do Not Suffice—The Wealth of Concepts in Pius XII’s Treatment of the Matter
We have enumerated several objections raised today against the nobility as well as arguments the nobles must have honed and ready at hand for their defense.
Proponents and opponents of nobility have some notion, however intuitive and vague, of the nobility’s concept of its essence, raison d’être, and fidelity to Christian civilization. But merely intuitive notions, more often implicit than explicit, are insufficient in a serious and conclusive debate. Whence arises the sterility that so often characterizes polemics on the subject.
It should be added in passing that the literature against the nobility is far more abundant and accessible than that in its favor. This explains, at least in part, why the defenders of the nobility are frequently less informed on the subject and, consequently, more insecure and timid than their opponents.
In his allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, the memorable Pontiff Pius XII establishes the foundations of a contemporary apologia for the nobility and traditional elites. He does this with an elevation of mind, a wealth of ideas, and a conciseness of style that makes the reading of the present work all the more useful and opportune.
6. Are These Allocutions Merely Social Amenities Devoid of Content, Thought, and Affection?
Some will probably claim, with manifest flippancy, that they are exempted from reading and reflecting on these allocutions of Pius XII, alleging that they were merely given to comply with social courtesy, and therefore lack doctrinal and affective content.
Paul VI was of a different opinion, as the following remarks reveal.
We would like to say many things to you. Your presence provokes much reflection. So it was also with Our venerable Predecessors, especially Pope Pius XII of happy memory. They, on occasions such as this, addressed you with masterful speeches, inviting you in your meditation to consider your own situations and those of our times in the light of their admirable teachings. We want to believe that the echo of those words, like a gust of wind swelling a sail,…still vibrates in your thoughts, filling them with the austere and magnanimous appeals that nourish the vocation preordained for you by Providence and sustain the role still required of you today by contemporary society.17
As for their doctrinal content, a reading of the texts and the accompanying commentaries will suffice to demonstrate their relevance and richness. Throughout these pages the reader will see that far from decreasing with time, this relevance has only increased.
A word remains to be said about their affective content. In this regard, it will suffice to quote Pius XII’s allocution to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility in 1958.
You, who at the start of each new year have never failed to come visit Us, must surely remember the careful solicitude with which We endeavored to smooth your way toward the future, which at that time promised to be harsh because of the profound upheavals and transformations in store for the world. We are certain, however, that when your brows too are framed with white and silver, you will yet be witnesses not only to Our esteem and affection, but also to the truth, the validity, and the timeliness of Our recommendations, which We hope are like fruits that have come to you and to society in general.
You will recall to your children and grandchildren how the Pope of your childhood and adolescence did not neglect to point you toward the new responsibilities that the new circumstances of the age imposed on the nobility.18
Beyond any doubt, these words show that the allocutions of Pius XII to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility correspond to lofty designs that were clearly defined in the Pontiff’s mind and heart. They also show that he expected them to bear lasting and important fruits. This is a far cry from what one would expect from allocutions meant to comply with mere social etiquette and therefore devoid of content, thought, and affection.
The esteem of Pius XII for hereditary nobility shines with particular brilliance in the following words addressed to the Pontifical Noble Guard on December 26, 1942:
None can be envious upon seeing that We bear you such special affection. To whom, in truth, is the immediate protection of Our person entrusted, if not to you? And are you not the first of Our guards?
Guard! What lofty resonance there is in this word: the soul trembles therewith; thoughts take wing. An ardent love for the sovereign and a steadfast reverence to his person and cause vibrate and voice themselves in this name; it sets in motion a tested generosity, an unvanquished constancy and courage in face of the risks met in his service and for his defense; it speaks of virtues which, molding the champion on the one hand, on the other hand evoke from the sovereign sentiments of esteem, affection, and confidence in his guard.
You, the guard of Our person, constitute Our armor, refulgent with that nobility which is the privilege of blood and which shone in you as the pledge of your devotion even before your admission into the Corps, for, as the ancient proverb says, “Good blood cannot lie.” Life is the blood that is transmitted from rank to rank, from generation to generation in your illustrious lineages, carrying with it the fire of that devout love for the Church and the Roman Pontiff that neither diminishes nor cools with the changing events, be they joyous or sad. In the darkest hours of the history of the Popes, the loyalty of your ancestors shone brighter and burned more ardently and generously than in the resplendent hours of magnificence and material prosperity….We have no doubt that just as in the past so chosen a tradition of familiar virtues was transmitted from father to son, so will it continue to be transmitted from generation to generation as a patrimony of greatness of soul and most noble merit of one’s respective stirp.19
7. Documents of Perennial Value
Lastly, some might object that after the death of Pius XII a new era began for the Church, that of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, the allocutions of the deceased Pontiff to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility fell like dead leaves on the floor of the Church, and Conciliar and post-Conciliar Popes have not returned to the subject.
This is not true, either. As proof, this work will cite, argumentandi gratia, eloquent documents from the successors of the mourned Pontiff.20
We will now proceed to study the allocutions of Pius XII highlighting their magnificent doctrinal wealth.
The "trombettieri" of the Pontifical Noble Guard
(5) Cf. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (New Rochelle, N.Y.: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc., 1980), pp. 28-29, 61-70.
(6) See Chapter IV, 8, and Chapter V, 6.
(7) The Roman Patriciate is divided into: a) Roman Patricians, descended from those who held civil posts in the government of the pontifical city during the Middle Ages. b) Conscript Roman Patricians, who belong to any of the sixty Patrician families recognized as such by the Sovereign Pontiff in a special pontifical bull, which mentioned them by name. They constitute the cream of the Roman Patriciate. The Roman Nobility is also divided into two categories: a) Nobles descending from feudatories who had received a fief from the Sovereign Pontiff. b) Common nobles, whose nobility issued from the appointment to some court office, or directly from a pontifical concession.
(8) Two of Pius XII’s allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility (those of 1952 and 1958) summarized the others. In 1944 Pius XII delivered a second allocution to the Roman Nobility on July 11 to thank their families for offering a generous sum of money to help the needy. Pius XII did not deliver any allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility between 1953 and 1957. He reestablished the custom with his allocution of January 1958, but died on October 9 of that year.
(9) See RPN 1943, Documents I.
(10) See Chapter IV, 3 and 7, and Chapter VI, 2 b.
(11) See Chapter V, 2.
(12) See Chapter III, 3 and 4. See also Appendix III of Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites for important excerpts from pontifical documents that clarify the issue.
(13) Chapter I, 6.
(14) See Chapter IV, 8, and Chapter V, 6.
(15) The bibliography on this theme is vast. See especially: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), and Romano Amerio, Iota unum—Studio delle variazioni della Chiesa Cattolica nel secolo XX (Milan-Naples: Riccardo Ricciardi Editore, 1985). See also: Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Trojan Horse in the City of God and The Devastated Vineyard (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967 and 1973, respectively); Rudolf Graber (Bishop of Regensburg), Athanasius and the Church of Our Time (Buckinghamshire: Van Duren C.P. Ltd., 1974); Cornelio Fabro, L’avventura della teologia progressista and La svolta antropologica di Karl Rahner (Milan: Rusconi Editore, both 1974); Anton Holzer, Vatikanum II: Reformkonzil oder Konstituante einer neuen Kirche (Basel: Saka, 1977); Wigand Siebel, Katholisch oder konziliar: Die Krise der Kirche heute (Munich-Vienna: Langen Müller, 1978); Joseph Cardinal Siri, Gethsemane: Reflections on the Current Theological Movement (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1981); Enrique Rueda, The Homosexual Network (Old Greenwich, Conn.: The Devin Adair Company, 1982); Georg May, Der Glaube in der nachkonziliaren Kirche (Vienna: Mediatrix Verlag, 1983); Richard Cowden-Guido, John Paul II and the Battle for Vatican II (Manassas, Va.: Trinity Communications, 1986).
(16) “The Church today is going through a moment of apprehension. Certain people are engaging in self-criticism, one might even say self-demolition. It is an acute and complex upheaval from within, which no one would have expected after the Council…. The Church is smitten even by those who belong to it” (Speech to the Pontifical Lombard Seminary, December 7, 1968, Insegnamenti di Paolo VI [Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1968], Vol. 6, p. 1188. Cf. L’Osservatore Romano [English weekly ed.], December 19, 1968, p. 3). “Referring to the situation of the Church of today, the Holy Father then affirmed that he had the feeling that `Satan’s smoke has made its way into the temple of God through some crack'” (Homily “Resistite fortes in Fide” of June 29, 1972, L’Osservatore Romano [English weekly ed.], July 13, 1972, p. 6).
(17) RPN 1964, Insegnamenti di Paolo VI (Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1964), Vol. 2, p. 73.
(18) RPN 1958, p. 708.
(19) PNG 1942, pp. 349-350.
(20) See Chapter I, 6, and Chapter IV, 11.