Christian Virtue: The Essence of Nobility

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


Today’s noble should be, above all, a man in whom spiritual qualities shine. Christian virtue and the Christian ideal are part of the very essence of nobility.

Lift your gaze and keep it fixed on the Christian ideal. All those upheavals, those evolutions and revolutions, have left it untouched. They can do nothing against what is the inner essence of true nobility, that which aspires to Christian perfection, the same that the Redeemer pointed to in the Sermon on the Mount. Unconditional loyalty to Catholic doctrine, to Christ, and to His Church; the ability and the will to be also models and guides for others…. You must present to the world, even to the world of believers and of practicing Catholics, the spectacle of a faultless conjugal life, the edification of a truly exemplary domestic hearth.

Pius XII then calls the nobility to a holy intransigence.

You must build a dike against every infiltration, into your home and your circles, of ruinous ideas, pernicious indulgences and tolerances that might contaminate and sully the purity of matrimony and family. Here indeed is an exemplary and holy enterprise, well suited to ignite the zeal of the Roman and Christian nobility in our times.

a. The spiritual qualities of the contemporary noble

To overcome the grave obstacles that hinder the perfect fulfillment of his duty, a member of the nobility or traditional elites should be a man of valor. This is what the Vicar of Jesus Christ expects of him.

Therefore, what We expect of you is above all a strength of soul that even the harshest trials cannot vanquish; a strength of soul that should make you not only perfect soldiers of Christ for yourselves, but also, as it were, instructors and supporters for those who might be tempted to doubt or give in.

What We expect of you is, secondly, a readiness to act that is not daunted nor discouraged by any anticipation of sacrifice that might be required for the common good; a readiness and a fervor that, in making you swift to carry out all your duties as Catholics and citizens, should keep you from falling into an apathetic, inert “abstentionism,” which would be a grievous sin at a time when the most vital interests of religion and country are at stake.

What We expect of you, lastly, is a generous adhesion—not under your breath and for the mere sake of formality, but from the bottom of your hearts and carried out without reservation—to Christian doctrine and the Christian life, to the precept of brotherhood and social justice, the observance of which cannot fail to ensure you spiritual and temporal happiness.

May this strength of soul, this fervor, this brotherly spirit guide every one of your steps and reaffirm your path in the course of the New Year, which has been so uncertain in its birth and almost seems to be leading you toward a dark tunnel.

The Pontiff develops these concepts even more in his allocution of 1949.

All are in need of strength of soul, but especially so in our times, in order to bear the suffering bravely, to overcome life’s difficulties victoriously, to constantly perform one’s duty. Who does not have some reason for suffering? Who does not have some cause for sorrow? Who does not have something to fight for? Only he who surrenders and flees. Yet your right to surrender and flee is much less than that of others. Suffering and hardship today are commonly the lot of all classes, all social stations, all families, all persons. And if a few are exempt, if they swim in superabundance and enjoyment, this must spur them to take the miseries and hardships of others upon themselves. Who could find contentment and rest, who, rather, would not feel uneasy and ashamed, to live in idleness and frivolity, in luxury and pleasure, amid almost universal tribulation?

Readiness to act. In this moment of great personal and social solidarity, everyone must be ready to work, to sacrifice oneself, to devote oneself to the good of all. The difference lies not in the fact of obligation, but in the manner of fulfilling it. Is it not true that those who have more time and more abundant means at their disposal should be more assiduous and more solicitous in their desire to serve? In speaking of means, We are not referring only nor primarily to wealth, but to all the gifts of intelligence, culture, education, knowledge, and authority, which fate does not grant to certain privileged individuals for their exclusive advantage or to create an irremediable inequality among brothers, but rather for the good of the whole social community. In all that involves serving one’s neighbor, society, the Church and God, you must always be the first. Therein lies your true rank of honor, your most noble preeminence.

Generous adhesion to the precepts of Christian doctrine and the Christian life. These are the same for all, for there are not two truths, nor two laws; rich and poor, big and small, noble and humble, all are equally expected to submit their intellects through faith in the same dogma, their wills through obedience to the same morals. Divine justice, however, will be much more severe toward those who have been given more, those who are better able to understand the sole doctrine and to put it into practice in everyday life, those who with their example and their authority can more easily direct others onto the road of justice and salvation, or else lose them on the fatal roads of unbelief and sin.

These last words show that the Pontiff does not accept a nobility or a traditional elite that is not effectively and unselfishly apostolic. A nobility living for profit and not for Faith, without ideals and like the bourgeois (in the pejorative sense sometimes attributed to this word), is not a true nobility but a mere corpse thereof.

b. Aristocratic chivalrousness: a bond of charity

The effective and enduring possession of these virtues and spiritual qualities naturally breeds chivalrous and distinguished manners. Does a noble, gifted with such qualities and manners, constitute an element of division among the social classes?

No. Far from being a divisive factor, a well-understood aristocratic chivalrousness is truly an element of union that gracefully penetrates the relationships between the nobles and the members of the other social classes with whom they deal because of their occupation or activities.

This chivalrousness maintains the distinction of classes “without confusion or disorder,” that is, without egalitarian leveling. Quite the contrary, it establishes friendly relations among them.

Note to the Reader:

The original texts of all the allocutions cited in this work can be found in the Vatican’s published collections of documents for the respective popes. Translations of the allocutions of Pius XII are provided in Part III of Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Hamilton Press (October 1993). Footnote references to the allocutions have been shortened to “RPN,” followed by the year of the allocution and the page(s) on which they may be found in the collected documents or, when otherwise indicated, in Part III of Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites.

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Footnotes :

RPN 1952, p. 458.


RPN 1948, pp. 423-424.

RPN 1949, pp. 346-347.

In this regard, see Saint Charles Borromeo’s homily in Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites, Documents IV, 8.

RPN 1945, p. 277.