One nobility belongs to all the faithful, one dignity, one splendour of race, since all are born of the same Spirit and of the same sacrament of faith, and are sons of God and coheirs of the same inheritance; the rich and the powerful have no other Christ besides Him Who is followed by the poor; they are initiated in no other sacraments, and have no higher expectation of the Celestial Kingdom; all are brethren and members of the Body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones.
The Catechism of Trent, as quoted by Kenelm Henry Digby in The Broad-Stone of Honour
The true Catholic principle regarding the life of man, is of course Vocation; the fulfillment of the unique purpose and mission in accordance with God’s will. It is intrinsically bound up with the final end of Man, the call to holiness and virtue. It is this principle which must be the foundation of any Catholic Nobility. However, since it is true that not only does all of Mankind share in an inherent nobility (disgraced but not debased by the Fall), but also that all of the Faithful share in a Nobility of Royal Priesthood, wherein does the concept of a separate hierarchical Nobility find its justification?
Firstly it is important to understand that this nobility is not a “warrior caste”; that the whole concept of a caste system (such as the varṇa of Hinduism) is antithetical to the Catholic worldview. This mistaken understanding arises from a flawed concept of aristocracy, not the rule of the virtuous, but the rule of the “superior” so-called, a “race of the blood”. Such understanding is based on a broken and modern concept of Sovereignty. Whereas the proper Sacrétemporal understanding sees the Common Good, that is Peace, Justice, Freedom, Charity, Mercy, Right Reason and Virtue, as indivisible and common to both the governors and those whom they serve, in this pseudo-traditional understanding “the people” and their “leaders” must be entirely separate, to the point of having and serving goods.
Strictly understood, there are no natural aristocrats, no men of inherent superiority and qualification, even pure intellectual qualification is no guarantee of moral quality. But there are those among the People, by the special grace of Vocation or of heritage, who are called to dedicate their lives to the Common Good beyond ordinary obligations. As there are those called from among the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful to serve in the Sacramental Order of Priesthood, so as well are there men called from among the sovereign and noble family of Mankind to serve in the Hierarchic Order of Nobility. These do not cease to belong their people, but by becoming servants of the Good in a special manner, are more truly united to those they serve. Will these men have moral failings, even those ennobled for courageous action? Most certainly, as is the sad consequence of fallen human nature, but in the true noble these are sins to be striven against, not faults to disqualify.
Just as in every rightly ordered government (even those republican or conciliar in form) there is a monarchical element, in every functioning government there is a Nobility (to which it must be remembered, the order of Kings and all legitimate rulers belong) dedicated to some form of the good. In the Civilization of the Sacred Ages of Christendom, the Nobility was not only given the honors and privileges of the tradition of the countries, but more importantly the duty and responsibility to uphold the principle of Concordia Provinciarum, accord of the people, harmony between persons. This is the true “democratic” and demodichic (“people-just”) principle. Thus even in a country consisting of diverse and varying nations (as are all countries historically defined) when united in virtue, freedom, and right reason there can be said to be “the people”. Noble, burgher, and free peasant, none lacking in honor, each belong to this people, each equally participate in the Common Good, but each in their own way as defined by their Vocation.
The purpose and end of this nobility is to serve as the monarchical element in the local community, one of the most important elements of subsidiary sovereignty. To preside over free men willing to serve him in war and peace as he is willing to give himself to serve them. And yet even as he is the servant and companion of the Sovereign of his country, there is an order of nobility, the knights and especially the ministeriales (hereditary retainers), who find great honor in in their own vocation as the servants of Servants of the People. Retainers no less free for serving one man who serves the Common Good, these too are true nobles, with an extraordinary vocation, serving their sovereign as brothers aid their eldest.
It is important to remember that virtue (universal and also the unique vocation of nobility) is not a “quality of blood”, it is not a heredity transmitted by a breed of Übermensch. Rather it is a daily struggle against fallen nature in which without the acceptance of Grace no man is assured of victory. The son (or daughter) of a noble may have the proper education given by his father (and mother) and it is true that a familial vocation may descend through successive generations, yet true nobility is lost when the noble see himself as inherently superior to those people of whom him is the servant. He has lost chief virtues of nobility, the courage to strive against fallen nature, and the humility to know that he like every other human person must so strive.