Emperor Charlemagne surrounded by his officers receiving Alcuin, who is presenting manuscripts made by his Monks Painted by Victor Schnetz
Pius XII: Allocution of January 5, 1942
Beloved Sons and Daughters, the loftily worded message of greeting that your illustrious representative has communicated to Us, wishes, it seems to us, to manifest above all that filial attachment to the Apostolic See which spurs your faith and is the finest glory of the Roman Patriciate and Nobility. With great joy and exaltation, We thank you; and in return Our love bestows Our best wishes on you and your families, so as to bear witness to you once again, through such keen sentiment, of Our grateful and especial appreciation of your traditional loyalty to the Vicar of Christ.
This filial and paternal meeting in the house of the common Father, even if not a rarity, cannot be diminished in sweetness and enjoyment by the reign of habit, just as the recurrence of the Christmas holidays in no way diminishes their religious delight, nor the dawn of the New Year obscures the horizon of hope. Does the renewal of the sacred joy of the spirit not resemble indeed the repeated renewal of each day, of each year, of nature itself? The spirit too, has its renewal and rebirth. We are reborn, we live again, when we commemorate the mysteries of our faith; in the stable at Bethlehem we adore again the Infant Jesus, our Savior, light and new sun of the world, just as on our altars is reenacted the perennial Calvary of a God crucified and dying for our love.
You too, when remembering your ancestors, relive their lives in a way; and your ancestors live again in your names and in the titles they left you through their merits and their greatness. Are these not names weighty with glory and rich in meaning: Patriciate and Nobility of this Rome, whose name spans the centuries and shines over the world as a seal of faith and truth come down from heaven to exalt man?
In a human aspect, the name of the Roman Patriciate recalls to mind the memory of those ancient gentes whose origins are lost in the mists of legend but who in the clear light of history appear as minds and wills essential to the making of the power and greatness of Rome during the most glorious times of the Republic and the Empire, when the Caesars, in their commands, valued reason over will. The most ancient men were crude, yet all were instilled with a sense of the destiny of Rome, identifying their own interests with those of the res publica, pursuing their vast and bold designs with a constancy, perseverance, wisdom, and energy that were never wanting. Even today, they excite the admiration of anyone who remembers the history of those distant centuries.
They were the patres and their descendants, “Patres certe ab honore, patriciique progenies eorum appellati” [they were called fathers certainly due to honor and their descent from the patriciates] (Liv. 1. I, c.8, n.7), who knew how to combine aristocracy of blood with the nobility of wisdom, valor, and civil virtue, toward a plan and process of world conquest, which God, against their purpose, would one day transform, in His eternal wisdom, into a ready and open field of holy battles and victories for the heroes of His Gospel, while making the Rome of the Emperors into the Rome of the peoples believing in Christ, and raising above the mute memories of the Pontifice Massimi of paganism the eternal Pontificate and Magisterium of Peter.
Wherefore it follows that, in a Christian supernatural light, the name “Roman Patriciate” awakens in our mind even greater thoughts and visions of history. If the term patrician in pagan Rome, patricius, signified the fact of having ancestors and of belonging not to stock of common rank but to a privileged and dominant class, in a Christian light it takes on a more luminous aspect and deeper resonance in that it associates the idea of social superiority with that illustrious paternity.
It is a patriciate of Christian Rome, which had its highest and most ancient splendors not in blood but in the honor of protecting Rome and the Church: patricius Romanorum, a title carried over from the time of the Exarchs of Ravenna to Charlemagne and Henry III. Through the centuries, successive Popes also had armed defenders of the Church, drawn from the families of the Roman Patriciate; and Lepanto marked and eternalized a great name in the annals of history. Today, dear Sons and Daughters, the Roman Patriciate and Nobility are called upon to defend and protect the honor of the Church, using, as a weapon, the decorum of a moral, social, and religious virtue that should shine among the people of Rome and in the eyes of the world.
The Battle of Lepanto
Social inequalities, even those related to birth, are inevitable: Benign nature and God’s blessing to humanity illuminate and protect all cradles, looking on them with love, but do not make them equal. Look, for example, at the most inexorably leveled societies. No art has ever been able to work things so that the son of a great chief, the son of a great leader of the masses, should remain in the same condition as an obscure citizen lost among the common people. Yet, although such ineluctable disparities may appear, in a pagan light, to be the inflexible consequence of the conflict between social forces and the power acquired by some people over others, according to the blind laws believed to rule human activity and to make sense of the triumph of some and the sacrifice of others, on the other hand, to a mind instructed and educated in a Christian way these disparities can only be considered a disposition willed by God with the same wisdom as the inequalities within the family. Hence, they are destined to bring men more closely together on the present life’s journey toward the Kingdom of Heaven, with some helping others in the way a father helps the mother and children.
And if this paternal conception of social superiority has sometimes, in the clash of human passions, driven souls to deviations in the relations between persons of higher rank and those of humbler station, it is no surprise to the history of fallen humanity. Such deviations in no way serve to diminish or obscure the fundamental truth that, for the Christian, social inequalities merge in the great human family; that therefore relations between unequal classes and ranks have to remain regulated by a fair and righteous justice and at the same time be informed by mutual respect and affection, which, while not abolishing the disparities, should diminish the distance and temper the contrasts between them.
In truly Christian families, do we not see perhaps the greatest of patricians being careful and solicitous to maintain toward their domestics and all those around them a comportment which, while surely in keeping with their rank, is always free of haughtiness and expressive of kindness and courtesy in words and actions that demonstrate the nobility of hearts that see these men as brothers and Christians and united to them in Christ by the bonds of charity, of that charity which, even in their ancestral palaces, between the great and humble, always comforts, sustains, gladdens, and sweetens life, especially in the hours of gloom and sorrow ever so abundant in this world?
Visiting the poor, illustration from 'Le Magasin Pittoresque', Paris, 1844 by Karl Girardet
You, beloved Sons and Daughters, as the Roman Patriciate and Nobility, you, here in this Rome, at the center of the Christian community, in the head and mother Church of all the Churches of the Catholic world, gathered round him whom Christ established as his Vicar and common Father of all the faithful, you are raised up by Divine Providence so that your dignity will shine before all the world in its devotion to the See of Peter, as an example of civil virtue and Christian greatness.
If all social preeminence brings with it tasks and duties, that privilege which by the hand of God has fallen to your lot requires of you, especially in this grave and stormy hour—an hour dark with discord and with ferocious, bloody human conflicts, an hour that calls us to prayer and penance, which should correct and transform the way of life of all and make it better conform to Divine Law, as the present hardships and the uncertainty of future perils clearly admonish us—a fully Christian life, an irreproachable and austere mode of conduct, fidelity in all your family duties, in all your private and public obligations, that they might never fall short but shine clearly and brightly in the eyes of all who look upon you and admire you. You must show them, in your acts and your footsteps, by the true path to good, that the finest ornament of the Roman Patriciate and Nobility is excellence of virtue.
While, then, We ask the humble and poor Infant Jesus, of royal lineage, the King of angels and men made Man, to be your guide in the fulfillment of the mission assigned to you, and to enlighten and fortify you with His grace, with heartfelt warmth We give you, beloved Sons and Daughters, Our paternal Apostolic blessing. We desire that it extend to and remain also upon all your loved ones, especially upon those fulfilling their duties far away from you and exposed to dangers, which they face with a courage equal to the nobility of their blood, and who perhaps have been lost, wounded, or taken prisoner. May this blessing come down upon you and be for you a balm, comfort, protection, and promise of the higher and more abundant favors and succors of heaven, and, for the restless and ravaged world, a hope for tranquility and peace!
Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII (Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, January 5, 1942), pp. 345-349.