The homage of your loyalty and devotion, and the wishes of good tidings which you, beloved Sons and Daughters, come to offer Us each year by ancient custom, and which have been so beautifully expressed by your most excellent representative, always fill Our heart with sincere gratitude. Naturally, they usually reflect the thoughts and worries that to varying degrees trouble the human spirit in the face of the changeable conditions of the times. After the horrors of the war, after the unspeakable miseries that followed in its wake and the anxieties deriving from a suspension of hostilities that could not have been called peace, and indeed was not, We spoke to you more than once, on this same occasion, of the function and duties of the nobility in preparing the new state of things in the world and especially in this beloved country of yours. The characteristic tone at the time was one of complete uncertainty. We walked in total darkness: The deliberations, the manifestations of the popular will were forming and transforming constantly. What would come of it all? No one could predict it with any precision.
Meanwhile on the world stage, the year just ended presented a spectacle to our eyes, one which certainly did not want for activity, upheaval, and surprise. What was lacking on the other hand, as in prior years, was the achievement of solutions that would let people breathe easier, definitively clarify the conditions of public life, and point out the straight road to the future, however arduous and harsh. Thus, despite some new progress that we pray will be lasting, uncertainty remains the dominant feature of the present moment, not only in international relations, where we hope for peaceful settlements that are tolerable at the very least, but also in the internal ordering of individual nations. Here too, there is as yet no way to foresee with any certainty what will be the final outcome of the meeting or clash of the various tendencies and forces, and especially of the different and discordant doctrines in areas of religion, politics, and society.
Less difficult, on the other hand, is the task of determining, from the various options open to you, what should be your mode of conduct.
The first of these modes of conduct is unacceptable: that of the deserter, of him who was incorrectly called the “emigré à l’intérieur”; it is the abstention of the angry, resentful man who, out of spite or discouragement, makes no use of his qualities or energies, participates in none of his country’s and his epoch’s activities, but rather withdraws—like Achilles in his tent, near the swift-moving boats, far from the battles—while the destinies of the fatherland are at stake.
Abstention is even less appropriate when it is the result of an indolent, passive indifference. Indeed, worse than ill humor, worse than spite and discouragement, would be nonchalance in the face of a ruin into which one’s own brothers, one’s own people, were about to fall. In vain would it attempt to hide behind the mask of neutrality; it is not at all neutral; it is, like it or not, complicit. Each light snowflake falling softly on the mountain’s slope and adorning it with its whiteness plays its part, while letting itself be dragged along, in turning the little clump of snow that breaks away from the peak into the avalanche that brings disaster to the valley, crushing and burying peaceful homes. Only the solid mass, which is one with the rock of the foundation, can victoriously resist and stop the avalanche, or at least diminish its destructive course.
In this same way the man who is just and firm in his desire for good, the man of whom Horace speaks in a famous ode, who does not let himself be moved in his unshakeable thought by the furor of the citizens who give criminal orders nor by the tyrant’s menacing scowl, but remains undaunted, even should the universe crumble over his head: “si fractus inlabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae.” (Carmen Secularae, III, 3). Yet if this just and strong man is a Christian, he will not content himself with standing erect and impassive amid the ruins; he will feel duty-bound to resist and prevent catastrophe, or at least to limit its damage. And if he cannot contain its destructive force, he will be there again to rebuild the demolished edifice, to sow the devastated field. That is what your conduct should rightly be. It must consist—without having to renounce the freedom of your convictions and your opinions on human vicissitudes—in accepting the contingent order of things such as it is, and in directing its efficiency toward the good, not of a specific class, but of the entire community.
Now this common good—that is the realization of normal, stable social conditions so that it not prove too difficult for individuals and families with the right use of their powers to lead a proper life according to God’s law, a worthy, orderly, and happy life—is the goal and the rule of the State and its organs.
Men, as individuals and as a society, and their common good are always bound to the absolute order of values established by God. Now, in order to effect this bond and make it work in a manner worthy of human nature, man was given personal freedom, and the guardianship of this freedom is the goal of any judicial system worthy of the name. But from this it also follows that there can be no freedom or right to violate this absolute order of values. It would be tantamount to harming this order and to unhinging the defense of public morality—which is, of course, an essential element to the State’s maintenance of the common good—if, to cite one example, one granted, with no regard for that supreme order, unconditional freedom to the press and cinema. In such a case one would not be recognizing the right to true and genuine freedom; rather, one would be legalizing license if one allowed the press and cinema to undermine the religious and moral foundations of the life of the people. To understand and admit such a principle, one need not even be Christian. One need only use reason and sound moral and judicial sense, without the interference of the passions.
It is quite possible that certain grave events that had been developing over the year just past had a sorrowful echo in the hearts of more than a few of us. Yet those who live in the richness of Christian thought do not let themselves be defeated nor discouraged by human occurrences, whatever they may be, and are always bravely turning their gaze to all that remains, which is indeed great and most worthy of their care. What remains is the country and the people: It is the State, whose highest end is the true good of all, and whose mission requires shared cooperation, in which each citizen has his own place; it is the millions of upright souls who love to see this common good in the light of God and to promote it in accordance with the orders of His eternal law.
Italy is on the verge of giving herself a new constitution. Who could fail to recognize the capital importance of such an undertaking? What the life principle is to the living body, the constitution is to the social organism, whose growth, moral as well as economic, is strictly conditioned by it. If, therefore, there are any who need to keep their gazes fixed on the orders handed down by God, if there are any obliged to have the true good of all forever before their eyes, then these are the men to whom is entrusted the great work of drafting a constitution.
Besides, what good are the best laws if they are to remain a dead letter? Their efficacy depends in large part on those who are supposed to apply them. In the hands of men who have not the spirit of the law within them, who perhaps in their hearts disagree with what it provides for, or who are not spiritually or morally capable of putting it into effect, even the most perfect work of legislation loses much of its value. A good constitution is without doubt a thing of great value. What the State is absolutely in need of, however, are men of competence and expertise in political and administrative matters, men wholly dedicated to the greater good of the nation, and guided by clear and sound principles.
Thus does the voice of your fatherland, prompted by the severe upheavals of recent years, call for the collaboration of all honest men and women in whose families and in whose persons reigns the best of the spiritual vigor, the moral categories, and the old and still living traditions of our country. That voice is exhorting them to make themselves available to the State with all the force of their most heartfelt convictions, and to work for the good of the people!
And thus does the road to the future open up for all of you as well.
Last year, on this same occasion, We showed how even in democracies of recent date that have no vestiges of a feudal past behind them, a kind of new nobility or aristocracy has been forming by force of circumstances. It consists of the community of families that by tradition place all their energies at the service of the State, its government, its administration, and whose loyalty it can always count on.
Your task is therefore far from being a negative one. It presupposes much study, much work, much self-abnegation, and above all, much love. Despite the rapid evolution of the times, it has not lost its value, it has not reached its end. What it also requires of you—something that ought to be the salient feature of traditional and family-oriented upbringing—is the noble sentiment and the will not to take advantage of your station—an often solemn, austere privilege nowadays—except to serve.
Go then with courage and with meek pride and meet the future head-on, beloved Sons and Daughters. Your social function, though new in form, is in its substance the same as in your past days of greater splendor. If at times it should seem difficult, arduous, perhaps even with its share of disappointments, do not forget that Divine Providence, which has entrusted it to you, will grant you at once the strength and the succor necessary to fulfill it worthily. For this assistance We pray to the God made man, to raise human society from its fallen state, to reconstitute a new society on unshakeable foundations, to be Himself the cornerstone of the edifice, to restore it forever anew from generation to generation. With this, as a pledge of the highest heavenly favors, with paternal affection We give you, your families and everyone dear to your hearts, near and far, and especially your cherished young ones, Our Apostolic blessing.
Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII (Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, January 8, 1947), pp. 367-371.