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Special duties of society towards the impoverished nobility





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1. The best alms is that given to the impoverished noble

St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), Doctor of the Church, points out the particular diligence that one should have in alleviating the needs of an impoverished noble:

"Although almsgiving be exalted in the course of Sacred Scripture's pages, and mercy elevates itself above all other virtues and obtains the victory amongst other works of piety, that mercy which affords help on behalf of those who, from the abundance of late, fell into penury has preeminence.

"Many are they, in fact, of whom the category of an illustrious progeny becomes famous, and, nevertheless, whose indigence of the familiar patrimony constrains them.  Many also are adorned with titles of knights of an ancient lineage but feel themselves humiliated by the penury of the most basic goods of domestic life: due to the demands of their category's dignity they are obliged to appear at receptions in which they, being equal in social level, are by far unequal in fortune. And though the concern of domestic poverty martyrs them and even when, constrained by necessity, they reach a dire situation, they don't know how to ask for food as beggars.  They prefer to die than to beg publicly; they become abashed if their situation is known; they are ashamed to confess their penury.  And while some preach their misery and not occasionally exaggerate the measure of their poverty in order to receive from others' compassion more abundant alms, these dissimulate it as much as they can, hiding their situation, so that some sign of their poverty doesn't abruptly appear to the eyes of men in a shameful way.

"Therefore, it is more to comprehend than to see the indigence of these.  One can conjecture it more in certain signs that fortuitously appear than deduce it by obvious clues.

"In any case, great will be the reward of the relief given to these non manifest paupers, but hidden, as shown by the Prophet when he said: `Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor" (Ps. 40:2).  In fact, in relation to the tattered and wounded poor who wander through the streets there's not much to discern, for with a simple glance we perceive it; as for other poor, however, we should perceive that they are so interiorly since we cannot see clearly their misery exteriorly." (MIGNE, P.L., t. CXLV, col. 214-215) 

2. Solicitude of Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, towards the impoverished nobility

In the life of Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal (1274-1336), we read the following facts that manifest an edifying trace of her character:

"She took particular care in assisting people who, having lived the law of nobility, with a farm, found themselves fallen, and increasing their necessity and misery with the embarrassment to plead.  Such poor ones she aided with great generosity and not less secrecy and hiddenness, so that they enjoyed the benefit without the counterpoise of shame.

"For the sons of poor nobles, she had in the palace special pouches which were made according to their elevated position.  She gave dowries for marriages to the poor damsels of good aspect and she, with her royal hands, was pleased to dress their wedding coiffure for them.  She had gathered and educated near her, many other orphans, daughters of her particular vassals; when they contracted a marriage, she provided them with an abundant dowry and adorned them with her jewels on the wedding day.  And so that this elegance of her goodness wouldn't end with her life, she instituted in her monastery of Santa Clara a fund to give dowries to noble orphans and left the order that part of the jewels which she bequeathed to this convent would be lent to the said damsels for their bridal adornment." (J. LE BRUN, Santa Isabel, Rainha de Portugal, Livraria Apostolado da Imprensa, Porto, 1958, pp. 127-128)


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