In past years, beloved Sons and Daughters, on this occasion—after having paternally welcomed the wishes that your illustrious representative usually offers Us in your name, with such noble expressions of faith and filial devotion—We usually accompanied Our expressions of thanks with some recommendations suggested by the circumstances of the moment. We spoke to you of your duties and your function in the tottering, tormented society of our modern times, though necessarily in a somewhat general manner, with the sense of a future in mind, a future whose time and aspect were indeed difficult to predict.
No doubt it remains obscure even today. Uncertainty persists, and storm clouds still loom heavy on the horizon. With armed conflict just ended, nations find themselves faced with the burdensome task of assuming responsibility for consequences that shall bear upon the course of the times and determine which way they turn. The time has come, in fact, not only for Italy but for many other nations, to elaborate their political and social constitutions, either to create entirely new ones or to revise, retouch, and modify to a greater or lesser degree the already existing statutes bearing them up. What makes this problem all the more arduous is that all these constitutions will be as different and autonomous as you like, as autonomous and different as are the nations themselves which wish to draft them; but they will not be—in fact, if not by law—any less interdependent for all that. What we have before us, therefore, is an event of the highest importance, the likes of which have rarely presented itself in the history of the world. In it there is enough to make even the boldest tremble in their hearts, if they are even only slightly aware of their responsibility; enough to disturb the most clairvoyant of people, precisely because they see better and farther than others and because, convinced of the gravity of the task, they more clearly understand the need to devote themselves calmly and attentively to the mature reflections required by works of such great import. And now, all of a sudden, prompted by collective and mutual efforts, the event is upon us; it will have to be confronted very soon; in a few months, perhaps, solutions will have to be found and definitive decisions made, which will make their effects felt on the destinies of not just one nation, but of the entire world, and which, once made, will establish the universal condition of nations, perhaps for a long time to come.
In our democratic age, all members of human society must take part in this undertaking: on the one hand, the legislators, by whatever name they are designated, to whom shall fall the task of deliberating and drawing conclusions; and on the other hand, the people, whose task it is to make their will felt by voicing their opinions and exercising their right to vote. And you too, therefore—whether or not you shall belong to the future constituent assembly—have your own function to fulfill, which will have its bearing upon both the legislators and the people. What is this function, then?
You may have happened, more than once, to encounter, in the church of St. Ignatius, groups of pilgrims and tourists. You have seen them stop in surprise in the vast nave of the church, their eyes turned upward to the vault on which Andrea Pozzo painted his stunning triumph of the Saint in his mission, entrusted to him by Christ, of spreading the divine light as far as the remotest corners of the earth. Seeing the apocalyptic avalanche of architectonic figures colliding above their heads, they thought, at first, that they were witnessing the delirium of a madman. Then you politely led them toward the center. As they gradually drew nearer, the columns began to rise up vertically, supporting the arches soaring into space; and each of the visitors, when standing on the little disk indicating the best spot on the floor for viewing the fresco, then saw the material vault disappear before his eyes, allowing him to contemplate in astonishment, in that wondrous perspective, a vision of angels and saints, of men and demons, living and stirring around Christ and Ignatius, who form the center of the grandiose scene.
In the same way the world, to those who see it only in its complex and confused materiality, in all its disorderly proceeding, presents the appearance of chaos. Step by step the fine designs of the most skillful builders collapse and leave us thinking the ruins are irreparable, the construction of a new, balanced world on firm and stable foundations impossible. Why?
In this world there is a stone of granite laid by Christ; one must stand on that stone and turn one’s gaze upward; thence originates the restoration of all things in Christ. Christ has revealed the secret thereof: “Quaerite primum regnum Dei et iustitiam eius, et haec omnia adicientur vobis” [Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you] (Matt. 6:33).
One cannot therefore draw up the healthy, vital constitution of any society or nation unless the two great powers—the legislator with his deliberations and resolutions and the people with the free expression of their opinions and the exercise of their electoral rights—are both firmly planted on this foundation so they can look upward and bring the kingdom of God upon their country and their world. But are things this way now? Alas, they are far from it.
In deliberative assemblies, as in mobs, there are always many who, unendowed with any consistent moral equilibrium, race ahead and lead the others haphazardly into the darkness, down the paths that lead to ruin! Others, feeling disoriented and lost, anxiously seek, or at least vaguely wish for, light, a hint of light, without knowing where it might be, without following the only “true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.” (John 1:9). They brush past it with each step, without ever recognizing it.
Even assuming the members of those assemblies to be competent in matters of a temporal nature—political, economic, and administrative questions—many of them are exceptionally less versed in matters concerning the religious realm, Christian doctrine and morals, and the nature, rights, and mission of the Church. At the moment of completing the edifice, they realize that nothing holds plumb, because the keystone to the vault is not in its place.
For its part, the numberless, anonymous multitude is easily provoked to disorder; it surrenders blindly, passively, to the torrent that carries it away or to the whims of the currents that divide and divert it. Once it has become the plaything of the passions or interests of its agitators, as of its own illusions, it is no longer able to take root on the rock and stabilize itself to form a true people, that is, a living body with limbs and organs differentiated according to their respective forms and functions, yet working all together for its autonomous activity in order and unity.
On another occasion, We spoke of the conditions necessary for a people to be ripe for a healthy democracy. Yet who can raise and nurture this state of ripeness? No doubt the Church could draw many lessons in this regard from the treasury of its experiences and its own civilizing activities. Yet your presence here today brings to mind one particular observation. As history will testify, wherever true democracy reigns, the life of the people is permeated with sound traditions, which it is not legitimate to destroy. The primary representatives of these traditions are the ruling classes, or rather, the groups of men and women, or the associations, which set the tone, as we say, for the village or the city, for the region or the entire country.
Whence the existence and influence, among all civilized peoples, of aristocratic institutions, aristocratic in the highest sense of the word, like certain academies of widespread and well-deserved renown.
And the nobility is in that number too. Without claiming any privilege or monopoly, it is, or ought to be, one of these institutions. It is a traditional institution, founded on the continuity of an ancient education. Of course, in a democratic society, which our own wishes to be, the mere title of birth no longer suffices to command authority or esteem; therefore, in order to preserve in worthy fashion your elevated station and social rank, indeed to increase it and raise it, you must truly be an elite, you must meet the conditions and fulfill the indispensable demands of the epoch wherein we live.
You could well become this elite. You have behind you an entire past of age-old traditions that represent fundamental values for the healthy life of a people. Among these traditions, of which you are rightfully proud, you number religiousness, the living and working Catholic faith, as the most important of all. Has history not already cruelly proved that any human society without a religious foundation rushes inevitably toward its dissolution and ends up in terror? In emulation of your ancestors, you should therefore shine in the eyes of the people with the light of your spiritual life, with the splendor of your unshakeable faith in Christ and the Church.
Among these traditions is also the inviolate honor of a profoundly Christian conjugal and familial life. In all countries, or at least in those of Western civilization, there rises now a cry of anguish about marriage and the family, a cry so piercing it is impossible not to hear it. Here too, with your exemplary conduct you must put yourselves at the head of the movement for the reform and restoration of the domestic hearth.
And among these same traditions you also count that of acting for the people, in all the facets of public life to which you might be called, as living examples of an unwavering performance of duty, as impartial, disinterested men who, free of all inordinate lust for success or wealth, do not accept a post except to serve the good cause, courageous men unafraid of losing favor from above, or of threats from below.
Lastly, among these traditions there is also the calm, loyal attachment to all that which experience and history have validated and consecrated, that spirit unmoved by restless agitation and blind lust for novelty so characteristic of our time, but also wide open to all social needs. Deeply convinced that only the doctrine of the Church can provide an effective remedy to the present ills, set your hearts upon paving the way for Her, without reservations or selfish suspicions, with words and with works, and especially by guiding, in the administration of your estates, true model businesses from an economic as well as social point of view. A true gentleman never lends his participation to enterprises that can only sustain themselves and prosper at the expense of the common weal and to the detriment and ruin of persons of modest condition. On the contrary, he will put his virtue at the service of the small, the weak, the people—of those who, practicing an honest trade, earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow. Only thus will you be truly an elite; thus will you fulfill your religious and Christian duty; thus will you nobly serve God and your country.
May you then, beloved Sons and Daughters, with your great traditions, with care for your progress and your personal, human, and Christian perfection, with your loving good works, with the charity and simplicity of your relations with all the social classes, may you then strive to help the people reestablish themselves on the foundation stone, to seek the kingdom of God and His justice. This is the wish We offer for you, the prayer We lift up, by the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the Divine Heart of Christ Our King, all the way to the throne of the Sovereign Lord of all peoples and all nations. May His grace descend abundantly upon you, and in this pledge We give to you all, with all our heart, and to your families and all persons dear to you, Our paternal Apostolic blessing.
Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII (Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, January 16, 1946), pp. 337-342.