Book Launching, Milan, October 15, 1993

October 25, 2010


Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility


Pius XII: Great Goals and Immense Means to Bring About the Restoration of the Christian Social Order

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

 

One of the most important results of the First World War, though not the most noticed, was a transformation, in fact a fundamental revolution, not only in the political and economic sphere but also with regard to the mentality and customs in force before the war.

In other words, much of what was regarded as essential, elevated, sublime, and perhaps intangible before the conflict was mercilessly swept away by the whirlwind of events and replaced with other customs and attitudes diametrically opposed to the earlier ones.

A similar phenomenon occurred after the Second World War. So we can say that the two great wars of the twentieth century—God forbid we should get a third one before this troubled century ends—were two major revolutions.

It is a duty of justice to note that in his 14 allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, Pius XII tried to mitigate the effects of these revolutions by giving directives of an admirable wisdom.

Specifically with respect to the second post-war period, the Pope says:

This time the work of restoration is incomparably more immense, more delicate, and more complex. It is not a question of bringing one sole nation back to normalcy. One can say that the entire world must be rebuilt; the universal order must be re-established. The material order, the intellectual order, the social order, the international order—all must be remade and set back in a regular, constant motion. That tranquil order that is peace, that is the only true peace, cannot be reborn and endure except by building human society upon Christ, so as to gather, recapitulate, reunite everything in Him (Allocution of January 14, 1945).

So, one who reads this Pope’s documents easily realizes he had in mind to oppose that massive Revolution with a Counter-Revolution. A Counter-Revolution that would save from ruin a great many traditions and enable a number of others that still had every reason to exist but crumbled, to get back on their feet and recover their vitality.

Of course, since the Pope addressed only the nobles and the traditional elites, some people supposed that he counted on them alone to carry out that work. The persons who thought so, perhaps also deemed those classes the only ones capable of understanding, loving and defending the traditions of which they were specifically the carriers.

View of the audience during the launching of Nobility in Milan's Palazzo Serbelloni, October 15, 1993

 

Indeed, one sees that Pius XII called particularly on those elites to take up that great mission. This is understandable as they are the guarantors of the perennial values the Pope believes should not be allowed to vanish.

We should note how he really wanted a comprehensive collaboration in this regard. He asked such collaboration not only from members of an elite still in possession of sufficient assets to radiate all the prestige coming from their past and thus place at the service of the Counter-Revolution all the force of impact with that one might expect.

It is obvious, however, that the Pontiff expected even more from the Patriciate and Nobility. He also counted—and notably so—on persons from that social class who, having been ruined by the misfortunes of war, no longer had material resources to remain influential. Though reduced to very fragile and often times shockingly frugal economic situations, those persons, with great family names, still had to give the precious example of true nobility and the best that could be expected of it; in other words, to show how their class can keep virtue, grandeur of soul and moral dignity unscathed and can radiate them to other social classes even when deprived of all kinds of material goods.

But we must go beyond that. Pius XII manifestly counted on the ensemble of the social body not only to save the still existing elites and traditions they carried but also to make sure that new elites would spring up alongside the old. To these new elites would befall—in the face of new situations and animated with a truly Catholic mentality—the development of new habits, customs and forms of power. And all this without destroying or denying the past in any way, but completing it when necessary.

 

Saint-Cyr and the students of the Royal House of Saint Louis. Engraving circa 1690, author unknown

The famous Saint-Cyr boarding house that the Marquise of Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV, founded to help the numerous young ladies of the aristocracy whose parents had become impoverished.

 

It would be reasonable for Pius XII, in pursuit of such a lofty goal, to think of founding some specific type of association or institution and ask it to make a special effort to deal with the new circumstances. It would be something in the lines of the famous Saint-Cyr boarding house that the Marquise of Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV, founded to help the numerous young ladies of the aristocracy whose parents had become impoverished.

Obviously, however, that was not the main project in which Pope Pacelli placed his best hopes.

Note that, when speaking about his hopes, in spite of somehow playing the role of advocate for a certain past in face of new situations that arise, the Pontiff hoped to plead as much as he could for the cause of tradition and nobility. Therefore, his words have the value of a warm encouragement and a precise guideline.

It is timely to stress this idea here, that is, that society considered as a whole is a great body made up not only by institutions and smaller societies but also by a multitude of individuals who, by carrying out a merely personal action on behalf of the common good, form a first rate social force which the Pontiff counted very much upon.

One has the impression that, as he saw it, no success is possible in this matter without the collaboration of the whole social body.

That is very far indeed from the servitude into which the modern media’s propaganda machines cast peoples and nations, superseding the so-to-speak autocephalous organizations that should genuinely influence society. Today it is almost impossible to make a cause successful without the “placet” of the ensemble of the media or at least some of their major players. So that, no matter how much they talk about democracy, the truth of the matter is that in our so-called democratic societies the decision-making power is almost always in the hands of media moguls. Pius XII could easily and comfortably appeal to them, who could heed his entreaties, or at least feign to.

 

Pieter Lastman, Schlacht bei der Milvischen Brücke, 1613

"What is, then, the power which Pius XII counted on? Obviously, and first of all, it was the power of God almighty, Who made Constantine victorious in the battle of the Milvian Bridge...

Naturally, he wanted their effective collaboration, and obtained it on many points. But in his allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, the media do not appear as the essential element of an ideal society. Probably because its leaders are essentially and permanently tempted to be inauthentic; and as is known, human frailty often times succumbs to such temptations.

 

Don Juan of Austria Painting by Sánchez Coello , Alonso

...and John of Austria the winner in the battle of Lepanto, to mention only two outstanding historic examples."

What is, then, the power which Pius XII counted on? Obviously, and first of all, it was the power of God almighty, Who made Constantine victorious in the battle of the Milvian Bridge and John of Austria the winner in the battle of Lepanto, to mention only two outstanding historic examples. In fact, the lesson from the teaching of Pius XII is that if each individual Catholic heeds it and strives to fulfill his duty accordingly by acting in his own personal sphere, the end result can be a huge force with global impact.

Finally, in these allocutions we should see above all the Pontiff’s profound commitment to have everyone orient their ideal aspirations in unison with him and concentrate their efforts mainly in their immediate sphere of action: In other words, those with whom they live at home and in the exercise of their profession. If all Catholics, proud to collaborate with the Pope in this indisputably great crusade, perhaps the crusade of the 20th century, worked in earnest in pursuit of this goal beyond all organizations and coalitions, victory would affirm itself. The victory of great causes is not ensured so much by large armies as by the individual action of great multitudes imbued with great ideals and disposed to make every sacrifice in order to win.

It seems important to emphasize this point because there are far too many people today who, in order to concentrate their whole existence within the tranquil and carefree confines of their personal comfort zone, and to deem themselves exempt from any obligation to great causes, conveniently allege that individual action is doomed to fail in our times of huge human masses huddled in Babylonian-size urban centers. And even when spread over vast expanses of land, sea or air—they claim—those masses are continuously subjected to psychological and ideological manipulation by an ever-present and seemingly all-encompassing media.

March For Life in Washington, DC

"The victory of great causes is not ensured so much by large armies as by the individual action of great multitudes imbued with great ideals and disposed to make every sacrifice in order to win."

 

I want to make this very clear so that no one can have a pretext to do nothing by alleging personal weakness, a puny influence at best, and the consequent uselessness of any effort he might make. Let no one, from the greatest to the smallest, spare any effort to strive in the direction indicated by the Pontiff, and victory is assured.

This is the central thought of Pius XII, and thus, far from discouraging organized efforts by associations and social groups desirous of promoting this great good and capable of carrying out this great common task, I would like these groups to also have the collaboration of all those sensitive to the teaching of Pius XII, as they represent an immense force.

For you to gauge this force, I want to close by recalling a well-known historic episode. When Napoleon’s power in Italy was reaching its apex, one of his generals asked him with what degree of deference he should treat the reigning Pope. Napoleon’s answer was quick and razor-sharp: “Treat him like a general with imposing armies at his command.” While the white-haired occupant of the Throne of St. Peter might seem, to many, only as powerful as other old men, the sagacious Napoleon saw him as a world power. Why? Because a countless multitude of people, seemingly without importance, capacity or individual force of impact, nevertheless recognized him as the Vicar of Christ on earth and was ready to do anything for him. And that coalition of seemingly worthless faithful instilled fear in the man who made tremble the great of this world.

A well-made historic analysis will show that one of the causes why Napoleon felt isolated and broken after Waterloo, was that he did not have on his side the “General” who had command over that invisible but redoubtable army, the multitude of those who, though small in the eyes of men, are very powerful at the feet of God’s throne with their prayers and sacrifices. In other words, the Church no longer looked with sympathy at the apparent conqueror of Europe.

One no longer saw, around him, the friendly gaze of men with a simple but honest mentality, who had hoped he would be, at a certain point, a restorer of the Church’s rights out of the ruins the French Revolution tried to turn her into; those who had hoped that his sword would avenge so many overthrown legitimacies, both in the sphere of public law and that of individual rights; those who, seeing him ask Pius XII to crown him in Notre Dame, were so filled with hope that his gesture was a recognition of the divine origin of Power, that they missed the fact that Napoleon did not allow the Pope to crown his head with the imperial diadem; instead, he took it from the Pontiff’s hands and proudly crowned himself, denying the power he was seemingly going to restore.

Napoléon Bonaparte abdicated in Fontainebleau Painted by Paul Delaroche, 1845

"The Church no longer looked with sympathy at the apparent conqueror of Europe."

Yet, another celebrated saying eventually illustrated the abandonment the tyrant had reduced himself to, with his ambiguous religious—when not openly anti-religious—policies.

The chronicles say that, as the troops of Bonaparte marched victoriously toward Moscow, a Russian officer, special envoy of Alexander I, asked to have an audience with him. After some negotiations, lunch time came and Bonaparte invited to his table the envoy of the Czar of all Russias. During the meal, the conversation dealt with the number of religious buildings that the invading monarch had noticed on Russian soil. Trying to attribute the weak Russian resistance to a supposedly excessive religiosity, Napoleon asked the officer if Russia was, in European territory, the nation which had spent the most money on religious buildings.

The Czar’s envoy cleverly answered: “No, Sire, there is Spain too.” Now then, precisely around that time, heroic Spanish Catholics were inflicting unprecedented and humiliating defeats on some of Napoleon’s greatest generals. Understanding the allusion and the admirable military scope of Iberian religious fervor, the Corse general fell silent. Shortly afterward, Moscow was set ablaze and withdrawal from Russia became for Napoleon an inescapable necessity. He might also have recalled, amid his afflictions in Waterloo, everything he had lacked in order to win. And he possibly understood, more than ever, the importance of the religious factor confronting even the greatest generals.

If the lack of that factor causes such great weakness, its presence can be tremendously constructive. That is the power of the multitudes of faithful who crown with success the works of Popes when, moved by the Holy Ghost, they feel capable of exercising what Camões beautifully called “Christian daring” (Lusíadas, VII, 14).

Such were certainly the thoughts that filled with hope the heart of Pope Pacelli as he delivered his famous allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility.

“Deus vult,” exclaimed in unison, in Clermont, France, feudal warriors theretofore indolent facing the advancing Muslim danger. But the action of the Holy Ghost, making itself felt in the voice of Blessed Pope Urban II, filled with mystical inflections, rapidly kindled in those numb hearts the sublime flames of crusader combativeness. And the course of history changed.

View of the public at the display table during the Oct. 15, 1993 launching of Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII in Milan, Italy

The voice of Pius XII still resounds in his allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility; and this is why those allocutions, unable to shake the inertia of so many Catholics at the time they were made, today appear admirably vivified by a renewal of grace that leads every greater legions of our contemporaries to long for the restoration of a Christian and hierarchical society in which the tranquility of order reigns in an atmosphere of peace; a society in which all legitimate hierarchies are respected for the sake of the common good.

This explains the fact that, with renewed ardor for this grand ideal, the allocutions of Pius XII to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility are now featured in the book being launched today and are thus seeing new days of efficacy and glory in ever larger civilized circles of the West.

Portugal, Spain, the Iberian-American world, the Anglo-American world, France, South Africa, are nations in which these admirable allocutions circulate today in the unpretentious pages of this book with the vigor and force of impact they would have if pronounced by the great Pontiff only a few days ago. This raises the hope that in other countries such as England and Germany the same thing will happen as it now does in this admirable Italy, the joy and glory of the whole world, with book launchings in Milan, Rome and Naples.

Thus, may the Virgin Most Holy deign bring to fruition the so very just, timely and indispensable longings of Pope Pacelli.

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