The Priesthood of the Nobility—Allocution of Benedict XV to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility on January 5, 1920

December 15, 2011

In the recent annual commemoration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, there resounded in our faith the heavenly chant of the angels raising their hymns to God and to peace. Since that happy day there has not ceased to echo around Us, as in harmonious concert, voices of good will and affection that Our faraway children, and those many more who are near, have delighted in raising up to the humble person of him in whom they see the mission of Christ perpetuated and His promises and rewards continued.

But just as after enjoying a concert one appreciates and savors the voice of the one who repeats and develops alone the notes of the chorus, so after the wishes that gladdened Us in the recent Christmastide, the well-known voice of the Roman Patriciate and Nobility comes back to Us all the more agreeably, modulated by you, Sir, with accents of faith and warmth traditional to the noble Houses of Rome.

Sad and harsh did that voice deem the years just ended, and those now about to begin; but since, precisely in the face of such sadness, it invoked the consolation and succor of Heaven upon the troubled path of Our Pontificate, We give Our thanks to you, Sir, and to all those Patricians and Nobles of Our Rome who have come here to join in your greetings or who join in them from afar because they are prevented from gathering about this throne, to which their ancestors devoted their faith and to which their noble houses remain faithful to this day.

We also give Our thanks to you for the words you were pleased to address to us as to the Supreme Pontiff, in turning your retrospective gaze to the arduous, hard-fought, misunderstood work of the Catholic Church during the most tremendous of human cataclysms. In this, Our heart rejoices to reveal that, while your act of homage was directed to the Head of the Catholic Priesthood, your eulogy, elevated to the significance of a collective manifestation of this noble class, was beautifully and opportunely addressed to the more direct and faithful interpreters of Our sentiments amid the multitudes—that is, to the members of the clergy.

Fr. Francis Duffy in World War I trenches. He was the chaplain for the “Fighting 69th” and became the most highly decorated chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army.

The clergy, O beloved Children, is not an organization of war, but of peace; and not to works of war, but only to peaceful undertakings can it devote itself. Nevertheless, its apostolate, even amid the terrible conflict of war, opens many paths for good works and good rewards.

You thus saw them on the fields of battle comforting the forlorn, consoling the dying, and accompanying the wounded. You saw them in the hospitals receiving their last breaths, cleansing stains from souls, providing support amid the stabbing pains, giving comfort during long and dangerous illnesses, reviving the sense of duty, protecting against the mad designs of misfortune. You saw them in the neighborhoods of the poor, in the neglected villages; amid disheartened people, amid multitudes of refugees; often alone and always unnoticed as they encouraged those hardest hit by disaster; sustaining the widows, brightening the future of the children, strengthening the resolve of the masses. You also saw them in persecutions, in calumnies, in exile, in prisons, in poverty, in death, obscure heroes of the great drama, patient preachers of duty to all of the contending parties, exemplars of sacrifice, victims of hatred, objects of envy, images of the Good Shepherd.

Military chaplain giving last rights to the dying.

You saw them, O beloved Children!

Yet, while you recognized with the worthy representative of the Roman Patriciate that “the priest, whatever the cost of sacrifice, gave himself entirely for the good of his fellow man,” We, too, recognized another priesthood much like the Priesthood of the Church: that of the nobility. Alongside the “regale Sacerdotium” of Christ, you too, My Children, rose up as society’s “genus electum,” and your task was that which above all others resembled and emulated the task of the clergy. While the clergy aided, supported, and comforted with words, example, courage, and the promise of Christ, the nobility also performed their duty on the field of battle, in the ambulances, in the cities, in the countrysides; and, in fighting, assisting, striving, and dying, they remained true—old and young, men and women—true to the traditions of their ancestral glories and to the obligations that nobility entails.

Princess Xenia and Princess Vera of Montenegro assisting in the World War efforts.

If, therefore, it pleases Us to hear praise given to the priests of our Church for the work done during the painful period of the war, it is also right that We should give due praise in turn to the priesthood of the nobility. Both of these priesthoodsserve as the Pope’s attendants, for in the darkest hours they have well interpreted his sentiments; however, as We join in the praise that the Roman Patriciate has today given the priests of the Church, in their name We give equal praise to the work of zeal and charity carried out during the same period of war by the most illustrious members of the Roman Patriciate and Nobility.

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Marshal of France

Yet We wish to open our hearts even more, O beloved Children. The worldwide conflagration seems at last to be burning out, and thus the clergy are returning to works of peace more in keeping with the nature of their mission on earth. What will never end, however, not even after the signing of any peace accord, is the work of illumined zeal and efficacious charity that the nobles wisely began during the time of war. Should We not, therefore, say that the priesthood of the nobility, like the priesthood that will continue its good works even in peacetime, will be viewed by Us with especial benevolence? Indeed, from the zealous ardor displayed in terms of misfortune We are pleased to infer the constancy of purpose with which the patricians and nobles of Rome will continue to carry out, in happier days, the holy tasks on which the priesthood of the nobility lives.

Saint Paul the Apostle admonished the nobles of his day, that they might be, or become, what their station required of them. [He was] not satisfied with having said that they too should present themselves as models of good action, in doctrine, in integrity, in seriousness of purpose: “in omnibus te ipsum praebe exemplum bonorum operum; in doctrina, in integritate, in gravitate” (Titus 2:7). Saint Paul was thinking more directly of nobles when he wrote to his disciple Timothy to admonish the wealthy “divitibus huius saeculi praecipe,” that they might do good and become rich with good works: “bene agere, divites fieri in bonis operibus” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).

Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, the brother of Empress Zita.

One can rightly say that the Apostle’s admonitions are admirably applicable as well to the nobles of our times. You too, O beloved Children, the higher your station, the greater your obligation to lead others by the light of your good example: “in omnibus te ipsum praebe exemplum bonum operum.”

In all ages nobles have been duty-bound to assist in the teaching of the truth, “in doctrina”; today, however, when the confusion of ideas, companion to the revolution of the people, has in so many places and in so many minds made the true notions of right, justice, charity, religion, and fatherland disappear, it has become all the more imperative for the nobility to strive to restore to the intellectual patrimony those sacred notions that should guide them in their daily activities. In all ages nobles have been duty-bound to allow nothing indecent to enter their words and their actions, that their own license might not become an incitement to the vices of their subalterns, “in integritate, in gravitate.” Yet, this duty too, oh how urgent and weighty it has become, because of the bad habits of our time! Not just the gentlemen are beholden, however; the ladies, too, are obliged to join together in the holy struggle against the extravagances and obscenities of fashion, distancing themselves from, and not tolerating in others, what is not permitted by the laws of Christian modesty.

Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide of Luxembourg, 1914 Zurich

And coming to the application of what Saint Paul advised directly to the nobles of his day, “divitibus huius saeculi, praecipebene agere, divites fieri in boni operibus,”to Us it is enough that the patricians and nobles of Rome continue, in peacetime, to shape themselves by that spirit of charity of which they have given such wonderful proof in times of war. The needs of the hour in which their actions will take place, and the specific conditions of place, may determine various and different forms of charity; yet if you, beloved Children, forget not that charity is due even yesterday’s enemy who today languishes in poverty, you will show that you have done your “bene agere” by Saint Paul; you will enrich yourselves with the abundance promised by the Apostle himself—“divites fieri in boni operibus”—and you will continue to make the world appreciate what We have called the “priesthood of the nobility.”

…beloved Children, forget not that charity is due even yesterday’s enemy who today languishes in poverty, you will show that you have done your “bene agere” by Saint Paul…

O how sweet it is for Us to contemplate the wondrous results of this continuity. Your nobility, then, will not be seen as a useless relic of times gone by, but as a leavening to resurrect corrupt society; it will be a beacon, a preserving salt, a guide for wanderers; it will be immortal not only on this earth where everything, even the glory of the most illustrious dynasties, fades and vanishes, but will be immortal in heaven, where everything lives and is exalted in the Author of all things beautiful and noble.

Saint Paul the Apostle ends his admonitions to the nobles of his day by saying that treasures acquired by virtue of good works would open the doors of that heavenly abode where the true life is enjoyed—ut aprehendant veram vitam.” And We, in Our turn, to return the good wishes that the Roman Patriciate and Nobility have expressed to Us at the start of the New Year, We pray the Lord to bestow His blessing not only on the members of the illustrious class here present, but also on those members far away and on the families of individuals, that each might cooperate with the priesthood proper to his class toward the elevation and purification of the world and, by doing good to others, ensure entry for himself as well into the kingdom of eternal life—“ut aprehendant veram vitam!

 

L’Osservatore Romano, January 5-6, 1920 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 II, pp. 463-465.

 

 

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