The Best Alms Is That Given to the Impoverished Noble

February 25, 2016

Saint 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:

The Smolny Institute

Although alms are praised throughout the pages of sacred eloquence, and compassion is superior to the other virtues and wins the palm among the works of piety, nevertheless, that compassion stands above the rest that extends aid to those recently fallen from abundance into want. For there are some indeed whom the rank of a rather exalted ancestry ennobles, but whom the poverty of their family constricts. Many are even adorned with knightly family titles but are depressed by a lack of domestic necessities. The demanding dignity of their ancestry compels them to be present at the gatherings of the noteworthy; in the assembly they are indeed equal, but they are very unequal when it comes to resources. Although the troubles of domestic poverty torture them to extreme circumstances, they know not how to seek for food as mendicants. For they choose to die rather than to beg publicly; they are embarrassed at being recognized; they are afraid to confess their want; and although others proclaim their poverty—indeed, sometimes exceed moderation by exaggerating their poverty in order to receive the consolation of a richer contribution—these people, insofar as they are able, pretend by concealing, lest some sign of their poverty should basely erupt into the sight of men.

The Smolny Institute, in St Petersburg was commissioned from Giacomo Quarenghi (an Italian Nobleman) by the Society for Education of Noble Maidens and constructed in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens. The Smolny was Russia’s first educational establishment for noble women and continued to function under the personal patronage of the Russian Empress until the 1917 revolution. In 1917, Lenin used it as the Bolshevik headquarters during the October Revolution. It was Lenin’s residence for several months, until the national government was moved to the Kremlin. After that, the Smolny became the headquarters of the local Communist Party apparat and effectively the city hall.

Their poverty, therefore, is rather able to be understood than to be seen; rather able to be conjectured from certain signs that break through than to be detected from manifest indications. How great is the return from those who are not manifestly but secretly paupers the Prophet indicates when he says: “Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor” (Ps. 40:2). Certainly when it comes to ragged and ulcerated paupers wandering through the streets, we have no need for understanding, for we see them indeed with manifest vision; as for those other paupers, however, we need to perceive what is in their interior, for we are not able to clearly see their misery externally.

Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. 145, col. 214-215 in Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Documents III, p. 467.

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