How Many Will Be Saved? The Moderate Catholic View

You can usually tell whether a Catholic is liberal, moderate, or conservative by the answer to the question: How many souls are sent to Hell?

From the far left comes the heretical answer that no human persons go to Hell; they claim that Hell may be empty. This claim is heretical because it contradicts the clear and definitive teaching of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. See my post on this subject: Does the Church oblige us to believe that some souls are in Hell?

From the far right comes the heretical answer that even innocent prenatals and infants go to Hell, perhaps by the billions. An example of this error is here and again here.

Another error on this topic, which I would categorize as a theological error, but not a heresy, is the claim that the vast majority of human persons are sent to Hell. This error is taught by Michael Voris, who has taught abject heresy on a number of other topics. Voris’ video on the topic is here.

Michael Voris offers quotes from numbers Saints, all asserting that a majority, even the vast majority, of human persons are sent by God to Hell.

Michael Voris: “This isn’t meant to frighten or terrify people. It is meant to wake us up so we can avoid Hell. If most people go to Hell, the vast majority of people to go Hell, which seems to be the consensus among the greatest minds of the Church, then they perish because they choose to.”

Voris quotes St. John Chrysostom: ” ‘I do not think that many priests are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous.’ ”

Michael Voris: “And not to belabor a point, but we hear this so infrequently, if even at all, from the very people, the bishops and priests, whose solemn duty is to tell us this, that we feel we indeed need to labor over this point.”

Voris quotes St. Louis de Montfort: ” ‘The number of the elect is so small — so small — that, were we to know how small it is, we would faint away with grief: one here and there, scattered up and down the world.’ “

If these numerous Saints all said much the same thing, that most persons go to Hell, must we then believe that this is true? Does any assertion become an infallible teaching of the Church, if numerous Saints asserted it? Not necessarily. But let me begin by addressing some methodological problems to the thinking of Michael Voris.

Methodological Errors

Certain methodological errors are found among some conservative Catholics. For example, a Catholic author asks a theological question, and then proceeds to quote what one or more Saints said on that subject. This is a fine beginning to an article of theology. But after offering the quote, the article ends. This approach to answering theological questions is problematic. In effect, a mere theological opinion is being treated as if it were infallible, merely because it is asserted by one or more Saints.

The teachings of the Catholic Church have three sources: Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium.

Second Vatican Council: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church… It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (Dei Verbum, n. 10.)

The first methodological problem with the approach mentioned above is that Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium are utterly ignored. Even if Scripture has no explicit statement in answer to the question, it is exceedingly likely that Scripture has multiple passages from which one can infer the answer. Similarly, even if the Magisterium has no explicit answer, it is very likely that some teachings of the Magisterium, either infallible or non-infallible teachings, have substantial bearing on the answer. Yet both these sources are utterly ignored.

The second methodological problem is the assumption that the opinion of a great Saint or Doctor of the Church is by itself sufficient. Sacred Tradition is expressed, in part, at times, in the writings of the Saints and Doctors and Fathers of the Church. However, Sacred Tradition is greater than any one Saint, and greater than all Saints together. Tradition is “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation” (Dei Verbum, n. 2). Tradition includes the lives of all the faithful, even the most humble and least known, in so far as they live the Gospel of Christ. Tradition includes the life of worship of the Church. Tradition includes the words of the Saints, but only in so far as they correctly express the truths of Divine Revelation. And the words and examples of non-Saints, including priests, theologians, and the humble faithful also are included in Tradition. The fact that several Saints agree is a good start to an inquiry as to what Tradition teaches, but it is not sufficient in itself.

The third methodological problem — and this happens more than one might realize — is that other Saints may have expressed contrary opinions. A Catholic author presents a few quotes from a few different Saints, passing over any and all contrary opinions. If the author is confronted with the contrary opinion of a different Saint, the response is the exalt one Saint over another. This type of argument is common. For example, the opinion of Saint Thomas Aquinas is often held up by ultra-conservative Catholics as if it nullified all other opinions from other Saints. This approach is contrary to the teaching of Sacred Scripture:

{9:32} And they went to Capernaum. And when they were in the house, he questioned them, “What did you discuss on the way?”
{9:33} But they were silent. For indeed, on the way, they had disputed among themselves as to which of them was greater.
{9:34} And sitting down, he called the twelve, and he said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be the last of all and the minister of all.”

{10:34} Then, Peter, opening his mouth, said: “I have concluded in truth that God is not a respecter of persons.”

{2:11} For there is no favoritism with God.

A fourth but similar methodological problem is that the theological opinions of priests and theologians are entirely ignored. The basis for this rejection is the claim that, because the Saint is greater, he must have the correct answer. Again, God is no respecter of persons. Moreover, this approach ignores the truth of any theological argument that is offered, and considers instead only the person. Since God is Truth, this approach is sinful.

The fifth methodological problem is that, very commonly, a conservative Catholic author offers no theological argument of his own. He rejects, prima facie, all theological arguments to the contrary, and offers none of his own. He mere asserts the opinion of one or more Saints, as if this could decide any question. Instead of basing Catholic belief on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, he bases it on select quotes from select Saints.

The sixth methodological problem is that the development of doctrine is utterly rejected. If a few Saints held an opinion several centuries ago, this opinion is treated as infallible dogma, with no concern for whether any subsequent magisterial teaching contradicts or substantially affects that opinion. So not only are saintly opinions confused with infallible Tradition, but the entire concept of development of doctrine is rejected, at least implicitly.

The Particular Error

Now let’s look again at what Voris is claiming about salvation.

Michael Voris: “This isn’t meant to frighten or terrify people. It is meant to wake us up so we can avoid Hell. If most people go to Hell, the vast majority of people to go Hell, which seems to be the consensus among the greatest minds of the Church, then they perish because they choose to.”

He treats what “seems to be the consensus” of the Saints as if it were dogma. He offers nothing from the teachings of the Magisterium, and nothing from Sacred Scripture. He does quote Pope Saint Gregory the great, but only his words from a sermon, not from a document or act of the Magisterium. The Catholic Faith is not based on the majority opinion of whichever minds are considered the greatest in the Church. It is based on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, which Voris ignores.

Voris quotes St. John Chrysostom: ” ‘I do not think that many priests are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous.’ ”

Michael Voris: “And not to belabor a point, but we hear this so infrequently, if even at all, from the very people, the bishops and priests, whose solemn duty is to tell us this, that we feel we indeed need to labor over this point.”

Not only does Voris ignore the teachings of Scripture and the Magisterium on this topic, but he attacks the bishops and priests as a whole. This approach is not uncommon among very conservative Catholics. They give the theological opinions of Saints the highest place, occasionally quote a Pope or two, and utterly reject the body of Bishops united to the Pope, and the priests who work with them. It is heresy to reject the Pope as the Teacher and Pastor of the Church. But it is also heresy to reject the body of Bishops united to the Pope as fellow Apostles, Teachers, and Pastors. Michael Voris’ teachings commonly include wholesale rejection of the Bishops as a body, as if they were not authentic teachers and authentic successors to the Apostles.

Voris quotes St. Louis de Montfort: ” ‘The number of the elect is so small — so small — that, were we to know how small it is, we would faint away with grief: one here and there, scattered up and down the world.’ “

How Many?

The question still remains, how many are saved.

[John 14]
{14:1} “Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe in me also.
{14:2} In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, I would have told you. For I go to prepare a place for you.

There are many dwelling places in Heaven. If there were not, Jesus would have told us.

{7:13} Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leads to perdition, and many there are who enter through it.
{7:14} How narrow is the gate, and how straight is the way, which leads to life, and few there are who find it!

The way to Heaven is narrow. In other words, it is difficult to live a holy life in a sinful world. Few persons go directly to Heaven when they die, for we all commit many sins. The number of souls lost to Hell is not small; many souls are condemned to Hell forever. But there is also Purgatory to consider. Those persons who die in a state of grace, but with venial sins and temporal punishment unforgiven, are sent to Purgatory prior to entering eternal life in Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary summed up this situation well in her words at Medjugorje:

“The majority of people go to Purgatory. Many go to hell. A small number go directly to Heaven.” (message of January 10, 1983)

The majority of souls go to Purgatory, then to Heaven. A small additional number go directly to Heaven. So the vast majority go to Heaven, at least by way of Purgatory. This answer is not surprising. For the grace of God is all powerful. Many persons still end up in Hell. For the all-powerful grace of God respects us as persons with free will. The love of God forces no one into Heaven.

Pope Saint Gregory said: “… on the threshing floor few are the grains carried into the barns, but high are the piles of
chaff burned with fire.” But I reply that this figure, used by Christ, is more fitting. For when wheat is threshed, the chaff is numerous, but so also are the good grains. Therefore, God saves a vast number of souls, the vast majority of sinners, despite our many sins and failings. For the harvest is plentiful:

{9:37} Then he said to his disciples: “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.

In the teachings of the Magisterium, we find that persons can be saved, even if they are non-Catholics or non-Christians, and even if they outwardly reject the Church:

Pope John Paul II: “Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ — ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’ — stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’ of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. LG 14). For those, however, who have not received the Gospel proclamation, as I wrote in the Encyclical ‘Redemptoris Missio,’ salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded. In order to take effect, saving grace requires acceptance, cooperation, a ‘yes’ to the divine gift. This acceptance is, at least implicitly, oriented to Christ and the Church. Thus it can also be said that ‘sine ecclesia nulla salus’ — ‘without the Church there is no salvation.’ Belonging to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, however implicitly and indeed mysteriously, is an essential condition for salvation.” (All Salvation Comes through Christ, General Audience, 31 May 1995.)

The Magisterium teaches on the universal salvific will of God. See my previous posts on this topic:
Predestination and the Universal Salvific Will of God
The Only Unforgivable Sin
Teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on Salvation

But if this universal salvific will of God fails in the vast majority of cases, then God’s plan for salvation was ineffective. This idea conflicts with the teaching that God is all-powerful and infinitely perfect. But if the universal salvific will of God succeeds in the vast majority of cases, then the perfection of God is seen by the many who are saved, and His respect for free will is seen by the minority who are lost.

How could so many Saints be wrong?

The answer is found in the development of doctrine. The Saints that Voris quotes considered the great sinfulness of the world, and the great holiness to which we are called, from which we fall far short. And they often drew an incorrect conclusion, as a theological opinion. But over time, the doctrine of the Magisterium on salvation has developed, so as to understand and teach that non-Catholics, non-Christians, even non-believers in God, can be saved. They can attain to the state of grace by a baptism of desire. They can return to the state of grace, after actual mortal sin, by perfect contrition (even implicit perfect contrition). The Church as the sole Ark of Salvation includes mystical members, who might even outwardly reject Her, yet who nevertheless are saved by Her.

These Saints lived in a time before this doctrine of salvation had developed sufficiently to perceive that even persons who are very sinful, can in the end by saved by the power of the Cross and by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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6 Responses to How Many Will Be Saved? The Moderate Catholic View

  1. Connie says:

    Very convincing, yet infighting is not pretty. It would best be done behind the scene. Why not team up in some way with Voris?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Public false teachings require a public response, so that souls are not led astray. Michael Voris teaches multiple heresies and doctrinal errors. A faithful Catholic should not “team up” with a teacher of heresy.

  2. Connie says:

    You have the scholarly inclination, he has the ability to use a phrase like “team up” that ordinary people relate to. Maybe you are correct, but you are not better. His vision to reach “just folks” works perfectly with his Detroit-style charisma. Next time you are wrong in speculative eschatology, maybe you’ll be willing to stoop to his level.

    • Ron Conte says:

      So, you realize that Voris is teaching heresy and serious doctrinal error, but you don’t care because you can relate to him, and you like his charisma? That seems to be the response I’m getting from a number of his followers. They don’t really care if what he says directly contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Faith.

      An error in any speculative matter is not the same as an heretical or doctrinal error. If you continue to follow teachers of heresy like Voris, you will eventually be led away from the Church altogether.

  3. Connie says:

    Do you perceive my implied suggestion that YOU might try to influence the videos by forming some sort of relationship with RealCatholicTV?

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