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A Hymn of Love Rises up to the Throne of the Immortal Pontiff

August 26, 2010

Catolicismo No. 63 – March 1956

It was not without some apprehension, facing a confused notion of how difficult a task it would turn out to be, that I started to gather impressions and ideas to write for Catolicismo an article on the Holy Father Pius XII to be published on his 80th birthday, the second of this month. From the outset, I had to give up writing a work analyzing the Supreme Pontiff’s work as a whole: his action to promote peace, guidelines to bring about a solution to the great political, social and economic problems plaguing today’s peoples; doctrinal work through encyclicals and other documents to direct Catholic thought and bring fallen away children back to Holy Mother Church; his encouragement of piety, notably by defining the Dogma of the Assumption; establishment of the feast of the Queenship of Our Lady; multifarious fostering of Marian devotion; expansion of missions and limpid definition and structuring of Catholic Action in many documents and mainly in the Constitution Bis Saeculari; his fight against Communism, consecration of Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; providentially opportune canonizations, such as that of Saint Pius X; encouragement for the organization of a better world according to his documents on the Kingship of  Christ and Mary; personal contacts with the crowds in daily audiences at the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. In short, everything gives the present pontificate a substance such as to make it impossible to study it all in a single article unless one sticks to general statements or writes a whole book. This is the difficulty that uncommon and unmistakable personalities, extremely rich in aspects, present historians with. Let the young people now studying in college history departments brace themselves for it: with his countless, far-reaching and original activities (in the etymological sense of the word), this Pope will be for them an awful lot of work! And the volumes that will be written about him in the chronicles of Roman Pontiffs will be most numerous… if they ever suffice!

Having run into so great a difficulty, I mulled about writing an article only on the Pontiff’s doctrinal work. But here again I ground to a halt. Over the last few centuries, to say the least, never had a Pope produced such a huge, varied and profound work, and so subtle in many of its aspects.

So, as I pondered on how to write something adequate about Pius XII, his motto, “opus justitiae pax” came to mind. The Pope of Peace prays, suffers and works to bring about international peace and social peace. Would there not be something new to say in that regard?

To work for social peace is to strive for each class to understand its own mission and that of the others.

In this regard, Pius XII has a collection of extremely important speeches, unfortunately not well known, which he addressed to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility. These speeches clearly define the role and responsibility of the elites in maintaining social peace. So it seemed interesting for me to consult these documents to comment on them. But, as I went through those texts, I found their sheer beauty absolutely enthralling. And I understood that, rather than speaking about the Pope, it would be a thousand times better to let the Pope speak for himself. So I ended up by organizing a compilation of those speeches, of which today I publish an introductory study, reserving the texts for my next article. I do it with heartfelt affection, gratitude and veneration for the “Sweet Christ on Earth.”

*   *   *

In 1948, the republican Constitution of Italy abolished all titles of nobility. That dealt the final blow to the political scope of a class that was more than a thousand years old and is still vigorous today. And so, a social problem was created, one that was complex in all its aspects.

One can already perceive that complexity in the antecedents of the issue. Contrary to what occurs in other European countries such as France, Spain and Portugal, the composition of the Italian nobility is very heterogeneous. Before the movement for political unification took place on the peninsula, the various sovereigns who ruled over some part of its territory would grant titles of nobility: Emperors of the Holy Roman German Empire, Kings of Spain, of the Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Dukes of Parma and others, not to mention the patriciates of cities like Venice, and the Popes—our special interest in this study. As temporal sovereigns of a relatively large nation, the Popes also granted titles of nobility. And they continue to do so to this day.

In 1870, when the unification of Italy was consummated with the invasion of Rome by the troops of Garibaldi, the House of Savoy tried to amalgamate all these elites into a single whole.

Politically and legally, the move failed. Many noble families remained loyal to the deposed dynasties, from which they had received their titles. Most notably, the Roman aristocracy continued to participate in Vatican solemnities, refused to recognize Italy’s annexation of Rome, rejected any rapprochement with the Quirinal Palace, and closed its drawing rooms in protest. That mourning nobility was called the black nobility.

From the social standpoint, however, this amalgamation did take place throughout the country, and in no small scale, by marriage, social relations, etc. so that the Italian aristocracy today is in many ways a single whole.

Art. 43 of the Lateran Accords secured the Roman nobility a special situation by recognizing the Pope’s right to confer titles of nobility and by accepting those previously granted by the Holy See. As a result, the two nobilities legally continued to exist side by side: the Italian and the Roman nobility.

*   *   *

Other factors of complexity were added to that situation. In the Middle Ages, the nobility constituted a social class with specific functions within the State and their corresponding tasks and honors.

During the Modern Era, this situation gradually lost its substance, shape and color. It suffered successive mutilations with the egalitarian revolutions of the 19th century to such an extent that the political power of the nobility in the Italian monarchy, as it existed at the end of the last war, survived merely as a ghost or a trace. And that trace or ghost, the Republic destroyed.

Now then, while the quickly descending curve of the political power of the aristocracy loomed large on the landscape of history, its social and economic situation followed the same course but only very, very slowly. With their farms, palaces, art treasures, the social prestige of their titles and family names, the eminent cultural and moral value of their traditional family ambience, their manners and lifestyle, the nobility still found itself at the apex of the early 20th century’s social organization.

The crises arising from the First World War brought some change to that framework, depriving part of the noble families of their livelihoods and forcing many of their members to accept menial jobs unbecoming their psychology, habits and social prestige.

On the other hand, contemporary society was increasingly shaped by finance and technology, creating new relationships and situations and new centers of social influence totally unrelated to the classical stomping grounds of the aristocracy. And so a whole new order of things was born next to the old one, still alive. All this lessened the social importance of the nobility.

Finally, to the detriment of this class, adding to all this was an ideological element of absolutely primary importance. The worship of technological progress and equality, a fruit of the Revolution, created a climate of hatred, suspicion, slander and sarcasm against the nobility attached to tradition and founded on the type of inequality that demagoguery hates the most: that of blood and birth.

Clearly, the new and even worse economic collapse that the Second World War brought to many noble families, and the abolition of titles of nobility in Italy, caused all these problems to attain an extreme degree of severity. The acute crisis of a great social class was thus defined.


Pius XII knows that situation in all its minute details, particularly regarding the Roman nobility.

Indeed, he hails from a family decorated with high titles of nobility; and the top nobility is his natural sphere of relationships. His brother bears the title, Prince Pacelli. The Pope has an imponderable that recalls nobility: his tall and lanky profile, his gait, gestures and hands. This Pope, so universal and friendly with the lowly and humble, is very Roman and a very close friend of the Roman aristocracy.

In the Roman Patriciate and Nobility We see and love an array of sons and daughters whose pride lies in the hereditary bond and loyalty to the Church and the Roman Pontiff, whose love for the Vicar of Christ arises from the deep root of faith and does not diminish with the passing of the years and the vicissitudes of the ages and of men. In your midst We feel more Roman by custom, by the air we have breathed and still breathe, by the very sky, the very sun, the very banks of the Tiber, on which Our cradle was laid, by that soil that is sacred down to the remotest bowels of the earth, whence Rome draws for her children auspices of an eternity in Heaven.[1]

Now, if the Church is interested in the social question, it is not because she loves only the working class. The Church is not a “Labour Party” founded to protect one single class. She loves above all justice and charity and wants to make them reign among men. And she loves all social classes… including the much-hated nobility. Regarding the Roman aristocracy, Pius XII says:

Although it is true that Christ Our Lord chose, for the comfort of the poor, to come into the world bereft of everything and to grow up in a family of simple laborers, He nevertheless wished to honor with His Birth the noblest, most illustrious of the lines of Israel, the House of David itself.

Therefore, loyal to the spirit of Him whose Vicars they are, the Supreme Pontiffs have always held in high consideration the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, whose sentiments of unalterable devotion to this Apostolic See are the most precious part of the heritage they have received from their forebears and will pass on to their children.[2]

Thus, it was only natural for Pius XII to seek a solution for that painful social maladjusment.

The Sovereign Pontiff enunciated that solution in twelve masterly speeches to the Roman Nobility and Patriciate, delivered respectively in New Year greetings’ audiences he granted them from 1941 to 1952. The excerpts to be published herein are translated from the Italian original published in L’Osservatore Romano.

Of these speeches, the one of 1952 is, so to speak, a consolidation that epitomizes everything the Pope said in the earlier ones. So these are developments of, and commentaries on, that.


In these terms, at first sight it would seem as if this subject is one of interest to Italy alone. In fact, however, this specifically Italian crisis exists, mutatis mutandis, in all countries that had a royal and feudal past, a monarchic regime, or a situation analogous to that of Italy until the fall of the House of Savoy.

There is even more. By the natural order of things, de facto aristocracies, if not de jure, were formed even in States with a non-monarchic past (cf. 1947 Allocution to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, in L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 8). Now, the wave of demagogic egalitarianism born of the revolution and taken to a climax by communism creates an ambience of irritation and incomprehension toward traditional elites also in those countries. In them, traditional elites based on agriculture are being eclipsed by new social classes born from technology, industrialism and finance. And a situation quite similar to Italy’s arises in those countries as well.

Thus, for their indirect connection with the question of elites all over the world, these allocutions by the Holy Father Pius XII have a universal interest. This universal interest is compounded by the fact that, analyzing the situation as it presents itself in Italy, the Pope soars to high level doctrinal considerations that are useful for the formation of all the faithful. Most of his concepts on nobility apply not only to Italy but to traditional elites in all nations.

By publishing these comments and the luminous texts by the Sovereign Pontiff, I am therefore certain of contributing to the formation of the Brazilian public.


The reason I have picked these documents of special interest to social and cultural elites to comment on in this commemorative article, is that Catolicismo is, by its cultural level, an elite journal. And by virtue of the principle of specialized apostolate so inculcated by Catholic Action and the Marian Congregations, it is well for each class to speak mainly about its rights and duties. What the nobility is in Europe, the “four-hundred year old São Paulo families” are in Brazil—together with their counterparts in all States. It is indispensable for this class to know its mission in contemporary Brazil. And it is equally important for the numerous men of thought to learn about the teaching of His Holiness Pope Pius XII on the role of tradition and the elites today.

I am well aware that in the texts I am publishing, Pius XII in his clairvoyance placed principles and guidelines highly comforting to friends of tradition, alongside many bitter truths on the defections of some elites, their thirst for (often immoral) pleasure, and their lack of perception of their social obligations. He did so courteously, less in what he wrote than in what he implied. He carefully showed that one could not accuse the whole nobility of a defect that affects only certain noblemen. But his warning stands, fustigating much sloth, sensuality, egoism and superficiality of soul.

I take great joy in publishing these severe warnings, as I believe they are well deserved by certain elements of the traditional elites in Brazil as well. And I know that every truth from the lips of the Supreme Pontiff, however bitter, can only do good.

Traditional elites are even less entitled than all others to sink into a life of pleasures and melt into the masses, merging with them, oblivious to their own mission and tradition. Nor can they coil up within themselves in a dignified but obscure and empty private life as in a cocoon.

As Pius XII recalls, the evil began in the elites and from them the remedy must come (Allocution of 1943, in l’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 11-12).

May this article serve as a strong call so that, in an ambience of general esteem and understanding, they will selflessly and courageously devote themselves to fulfilling the lofty mission they continue to have.


Do not look for a political stand in these texts by the Holy Father.

As is known, Saint Thomas Aquinas considers monarchy, in thesis, the best form of government and the one deserving of greatest esteem. But it is possible that a country, for historical or other reasons, will organize itself as an aristocratic republic such as ancient Venice or a plebeian republic like certain free cities in the Holy Roman German Empire, Switzerland or Italy.

The Holy Pontiff does not forbid the Italian nobility to seek a change in the form of government. But his speech in no way delves into what might be, in concrete, the best form of government for Italy. He limits himself to teaching what the role of the nobility is in a well-ordered democratic society and in the convulsions and anomalies of the present hour.

He also shows, in a monumental item in his luminous Christmas speech of 1944, that a well-ordered democratic society has nothing in common with the utopias and errors of revolutionary egalitarianism. In that speech he distinguishes between a government of the people and one of the masses, explaining the two concepts:

The people, and a shapeless multitude (or, as it is called, “the masses”) are two distinct concepts. The people lives and moves by its own life energy; the masses are inert of themselves and can only be moved from outside. The people lives by the fullness of life in the men that compose it, each of whom—at his proper place and in his own way—is a person conscious of his own responsibility and of his own views. The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this way, tomorrow another. From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the state and all its organs, instilling into them, with a vigor that is always renewing itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good. The elementary power of the masses, deftly managed and employed, the state also can utilize; in the ambitious hands of one or several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims, the state itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people; the common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process, and the injury is very often hard to heal.

Hence, follows clearly another conclusion: the masses—as we have just defined them—are the capital enemy of true democracy and of its ideal of liberty and equality.

In a people worthy of the name, the citizen feels within him the consciousness of his personality, of his duties and rights, of his own freedom joined to respect for the freedom and dignity of others. In a people worthy of the name all inequalities based not on whim but on the nature of things, inequalities of culture, possessions, social standing—without, of course, prejudice to justice and mutual charity—do not constitute any obstacle to the existence and the prevalence of a true spirit of union and fraternity. On the contrary, far from impairing civil equality in any way, they give it its true meaning; namely, that before the state everyone has the right to live honorably his own personal life in the place and under the conditions in which the designs and dispositions of Providence have placed him.

Against this picture of the democratic ideal of liberty and equality in a people’s government by honest and far-seeing men, what a spectacle is that of a democratic state left to the whims of the masses! Liberty, from being a moral duty of the individual, becomes a tyrannous claim to give free rein to a man’s impulses and appetites to the detriment of others. Equality degenerates to a mechanical leveling, a colorless uniformity; the sense of true honor, of personal activity, of respect for tradition and dignity—in a word all that gives life its worth—gradually fades away and disappears. And the only survivors are, on one hand, the victims deluded by the specious mirage of democracy, naively taken for the genuine spirit of democracy, with its liberty and equality; and on the other, the more or less numerous exploiters, who have known how to use the power of money and of organization in order to secure a privileged position above the others, and have gained power.[3]

In such a situation, it is obvious that even today there is room for a high-level and indispensable mission of the traditional elites.

[1] Allocution to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, Osservatore Romano, Jan. 7-8, 1941. (Our translation.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Vincent A. Yzermans, ed., The Major Addresses of Pope Pius XII (St. Paul: North Central Publishing Co., 1961), Vol. 2, pp. 81-82.

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