Are The Saved Many or Few? Book Excerpt

From my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

What does Jesus say about how many souls go to Hell?

{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!

In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that many souls enter through the gate and travel along the way that leads to perdition. The word “perdition” means “the place of the lost”, in other words, Hell. Is Jesus asserting that “most” souls go to Hell? No, for he does not say most or a majority, but only “many”. And if we somberly consider the history of the human race, and the state of the world today, and what our society might be like in the near future, we cannot find any evidence to contradict the term “many”. It is quite obvious that many souls are on the path to Hell. We can hope and pray for their repentance and conversion. But we cannot deny this truth.

Jesus also says that the gate is narrow and the way is straight that leads to eternal life. The gate is narrow because we can only enter Heaven by obtaining and retaining the state of sanctifying grace (which is the state of love of God and neighbor in the soul). The way is “straight”, referring to a straight line, that does not wander away from God. But the way is also straight in the sense of narrow or restricted or close, not unlike the word “strait” (a narrow waterway). There are many grave sins that a person might commit at any time, and many ways to go astray. But the only path to Heaven is that of loving God and neighbor. There are no other options. One might express the love of God and neighbor in a myriad of different ways. But the only way to Heaven is along the single path of this selfless love. In that sense, the way is narrow.

But the expression that “few” find the way to eternal life is not a percentage. Jesus is not saying that only a small percentage of human persons go to Heaven. Few souls go directly to Heaven. But many souls can enter Heaven after paying what they owe in Purgatory.

{5:25} Be reconciled with your adversary quickly, while you are still on the way with him, lest perhaps the adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown in prison.
{5:26} Amen I say to you, that you shall not go forth from there, until you have repaid the last quarter.

So the mercy of God brings many more persons into eternal life by the work of Purgatory than if only those who entered Heaven directly could enter at all. By saying that souls there shall go forth after they have paid their debt, Jesus implies that they go to Heaven.

{13:23} And someone said to him, “Lord, are they few who are saved?” But he said to them:
{13:24} “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.

Jesus declines to give a percentage, and He declines to answer whether only few are saved. Instead, He encourages everyone to strive to walk the narrow path to Heaven, for the number (though not the percent) of those who fail to enter Heaven, and therefore end up in Hell, is great.

If the meaning of His assertion “few there are who find it” were that only few, only a small percentage, were saved, then our Lord would have answered the question “are they few who are saved?” with a “Yes”. But He did not. So the expression that few find the narrow path to Heaven means that few go directly to Heaven, just as Mary said at Medjugorje. In other words, only few follow the fullness of the true faith, as taught by Jesus and His Church. Many others can enter Heaven, despite their many sins and failings, by way of Purgatory. So we need not conclude that most souls go to Hell.

However, He does give this parable, about those who attend the feast of Heaven.

{14:15} When someone sitting at table with him had heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is he who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.”
{14:16} So he said to him: “A certain man prepared a great feast, and he invited many.
{14:17} And he sent his servant, at the hour of the feast, to tell the invited to come; for now everything was ready.
{14:18} And at once they all began to make excuses. The first said to him: ‘I bought a farm, and I need to go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:19} And another said: ‘I bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to examine them. I ask you to excuse me.’
{14:20} And another said, ‘I have taken a wife, and therefore I am not able to go.’
{14:21} And returning, the servant reported these things to his lord. Then the father of the family, becoming angry, said to his servant: ‘Go out quickly into the streets and neighborhoods of the city. And lead here the poor, and the disabled, and the blind, and the lame.’
{14:22} And the servant said: ‘It has been done, just as you ordered, lord, and there is still room.’
{14:23} And the lord said to the servant: ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel them to enter, so that my house may be filled.
{14:24} For I tell you, that none of those men who were invited will taste of my feast.’ ”

In this parable, the king, who is also called the “father of the family” is God the Father. The king invites many to the feast, and yet some of those invited refuse to attend. Those who refuse the invitation are persons who commit actual mortal sin and refuse to repent. They have cast aside all concern for the feast of love in Heaven, in order to immerse themselves in worldly things. The farm represents business, career, and money; some persons set these as their highest goals, rather than the feast of Heaven. The five yoke (pairs) of oxen represent food, since oxen are used to till the soil for planting. More broadly, the oxen represent any type of self-indulgence that is given too high a priority in life, not limited to food.

Now the third man says that he has just married, and so he cannot attend. This figure represents those who give first priority in life to the company of other persons, whether a lover or spouse, or a friend or family member. Human relationships are good, but God must always have the first place.

The Magisterium teaches the doctrine of the universal salvific will of God. And so we must hold that those invited to the feast of Heaven includes everyone. But a distinction is made in the parable between those who are formally invited, the formally baptized, and those who are informally invited. For far too many Christians, those who are formally invited to the wedding feast of Heaven, refuse to attend. And so the Father of the family (God, the Father of us all) sends his servant to gather in those who are not formally invited. These persons represent those many non-Christians who obtain the state of grace without formal Baptism, by a baptism of desire or a baptism of blood.

Notice that those who are informally invited are brought to the feast by the same servant who went out to bring the formally invited. This servant is the one Church, the sole Ark of Salvation. Baptism is required for salvation, but even those who receive a non-formal baptism are members of one and the same Church. Formal Baptism makes one a formal member of the Church, and non-formal baptism makes one a non-formal member of the same Church.

There are three categories of persons invited to the feast. Those formally invited, who are first, represent Christians who receive a formal Baptism. The next group is “the poor, and the disabled, and the blind, and the lame”. These are non-Christians who did not become Christian because they did not see the truth of Christianity (the blind) or because some other obstacle prevented them from accepting the true Faith. They are led to the feast by the same servant, the Church, meaning that they receive an implicit baptism of desire. Their desire for truth, justice, love, and mercy leads them to the state of grace and makes them a member of the one Church.

The third group is those who are, in a sense, compelled to enter the feast. These are the persons who obtained the state of grace by a baptism of blood. This type of baptism is usually accompanied by some form of violence, even if it is only the violence of an accidental death. Thus, the figure of being “compelled” to go to the feast is fitting because most of these persons have not entered Heaven by a knowing choice.

Certain holy martyrs, catechumenates who died before formal Baptism, receive a baptism of blood based on their choice to die for Christ. But if that were the only way to obtain a baptism of blood, Jesus would not have said, by way of parable, that these souls are compelled to go to the feast of Heaven. So most souls who receive a baptism of blood do not exercise any knowing choice (for example, the Holy Innocents). This implies that they are unable to do so because they are very young or mentally disabled. Such souls are compelled into Heaven only in the sense that no act of will and intellect is required of them, as would be required in the case of a baptism of desire. Even so, in my opinion, these souls enter the limbo of Purgatory first, so that they enter Heaven after they have knowingly chosen to accept and love Christ.

Finally, notice what the lord (God) says to the servant (the Church), “so that my house may be filled”. One meaning of this parable is that the Lord God goes to great lengths to see to it that Heaven is filled with many souls.

He formally invites all Christians. He leads many others toward Heaven; these are described as having various disadvantages, representing the obstacles that prevented them from believing in Christ (without culpability to the extent of actual mortal sin). These must have received a baptism of desire, for no one enters the feast of Heaven without sanctifying grace. The third group are “compelled” to go to the feast in the sense that they enter sanctifying grace without a knowing choice (baptism of desire) and without a formal invitation (baptism of water). These received a baptism of blood. By the violence of an untimely death, absent any actual mortal sin, they too are allowed into the feast of Heaven.

And why does the Father of the family go to such lengths? So that His House, His dwelling place in Heaven, will be filled with many souls. Therefore, most souls go to Heaven, not to Hell, as their final destination. Otherwise, the figure of a Father of the family of mankind, who goes to great lengths to make sure that His House of Heaven is filled, would not be true. When Jesus teaches, why do you not believe Him?

{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.”

Jesus plainly states that in His Father’s house, that is to say, in Heaven, there are “many dwelling places”. He adds emphasis to this teaching by saying that if it were otherwise, He would have told us so.

Should we presume that these dwelling places are empty, that God has prepared many places only to fail to find anyone to fill most of them? Our God is all-powerful in grace and subtle in wisdom. He cannot possibly have prepared many places only to see them go to waste. Therefore, the number who will dwell in Heaven as their final destination are many.

Theological Opinions Today

In the range of Catholic theological opinions today, liberal commentators tend to represent the number of persons sent to Hell as very small. Some have even suggested that perhaps Hell is empty. On the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative commentators tend to represent the number of persons sent to Hell as very large. Some have even suggested that the vast majority of persons go to Hell, including all non-Christians, who know about Christianity but fail to convert prior to death, and even most Christians.

It is easy enough to refute both extremes: those who claim that Hell is empty or nearly empty, and those who claim that the vast majority of souls go to Hell. And I’ve already refuted (in chapter 7, Judgment by God) the absurd and truly heretical claim that people are given a choice, after death, as to whether or not they wish to go to Hell, without regard to how they lived their lives.

Is Hell Empty?

There are varying versions of this claim. Some say that no human persons go to Hell, only fallen angels. Some say that very few human persons go to Hell. Still another approach is the claim that “the Church does not require us” to believe that anyone ever goes to Hell. All such claims boil down to one proposition, that very few souls are in Hell.

As we’ve already discussed, the Blessed Virgin Mary said at Medjugorje that “many go to Hell.” Although she also states that a majority go to Purgatory and therefore to Heaven, the number who go to Hell is not small.

But more authoritative is the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels:

{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.

{13:24} “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.

Jesus does not present a conditional statement; it is a plain assertion: “many” do not enter Heaven, “many” enter perdition (Hell). Why do you not believe Him? Why do you choose to believe, instead, false teachers who have risen up to openly contradict our Lord?

{10:15} And as for you, Capernaum, who would be exalted even up to Heaven: you shall be submerged into Hell.

Capernaum symbolizes the sins of apostasy and idolatry prevalent in that place. The worst sins against the eternal moral law are grave sins against religion. Jesus states unequivocally that these persons will be sent to Hell. He uses the figure of a populous and sinful town to show that the number sent to Hell is not small.

In addition, this verse further proves that people do not choose to go to Hell (except in the sense that they have chosen to commit actual mortal sin and to reject repentance). The residents of Capernaum think that they will be exalted to Heaven for their beliefs and practices about religion. They are sadly mistaken. Though they think they are choosing Heaven, they have in effect chosen Hell by choosing the actual mortal sins of heresy, apostasy, and idolatry.

{12:5} But I will reveal to you whom you should fear. Fear him who, after he will have killed, has the power to cast into Hell. So I say to you: Fear him.

If Hell were empty or if very few persons were sent to Hell, then there would be no reason to fear being cast into Hell by God. If each person chooses, after death, whether they wish to go to Heaven or Hell, then there would be no reason to fear being cast into Hell by God. To the contrary, many souls are sent to Hell to be punished forever, and so, in the grace of God, exercising both faith and reason, we should fear Hell.

{16:22} Then it happened that the beggar died, and he was carried by the Angels into the bosom of Abraham. Now the wealthy man also died, and he was entombed in Hell.

Again, Jesus speaks unequivocally of some persons being sent to Hell. And by this story Jesus warns other persons not to commit the same sins, and so be sent to the same place. But if Hell were empty, such a warning would be needless.

{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus implies that many of the scribes and Pharisees have not entered the kingdom of heaven, and that they were sent instead to Hell.

{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.

Jesus taught that the way to perdition (Hell) is wide, and that many persons follow that path. If Hell were empty, then this teaching would be false. If very few persons went to Hell, then the way could not be called wide or broad, and this teaching would be false.

You must make up your mind whether Christ is a liar or not. But if He is not a liar or insane, then certain popular Catholic teachers are leading the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ astray with false teachings. Anyone who rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be rejected by you. Anyone who teaches falsehoods about eternal salvation should be shunned. Instead, false teachers abound, and they have many followers. Truly, the great apostasy is near.

There are also many passages in the Old Testament referring to Hell, and plainly stating that there are souls in Hell.

{21:13} Their days are prolonged in wealth, yet, in an instant, they descend into hell.

The wealthy of this world often go to Hell. They seem to have happy lives: a good job, many friends, a good reputation, wealth and notoriety. Yet they are walking the path to Hell by one type of actual mortal sin or another. Those who are truly poor in spirit are sent to Heaven. Those whose lives are nothing but indulgence in worldly riches are sent to Hell.

{9:17} The Lord will be recognized when making judgments. The sinner has been caught in the works of his own hands.
{9:18} The sinners will be turned into Hell: all the Gentiles who have forgotten God.

The Gentiles figuratively represent those whose failure to believe in God or to believe in what the Church teaches is culpable to the extent of an actual mortal sin. The unrepentant sinner is sent to Hell. The phrasing “all the Gentiles” does not condemn all unbelievers, but it is a broad phrasing, indicating that many are sent to Hell.

{30:18} Do not let me be confounded, Lord, for I have called upon you. Let the impious be ashamed and be drawn down into Hell.

{48:15} They have been placed in Hell like sheep. Death will feed on them. And the just will have dominion over them in the morning. And their help will grow old in Hell for their glory.

{54:16} Let death come upon them, and let them descend alive into Hellfire. For there is wickedness in their dwellings, in their midst.

Sacred Scripture indicates, by these poetic yet frightful descriptions of the way to Hell, that many persons are “placed in Hell”. Death is not the end of all existence for the human person, but only a change: the soul lives on. And so those souls that are sent to Hell are said to “descend alive into Hellfire”. No one can claim that Hell is empty without contradicting the words of the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture.

{5:7} We exhausted ourselves in the way of iniquity and perdition, and have walked a difficult way, while ignoring the way of the Lord.
{5:8} How has arrogance benefited us? Or what has exalting in riches brought us?
{5:9} All those things have passed away like a shadow, and like a messenger traveling quickly by;

{5:13} And in like manner we, having been born, continuously cease to exist, and indeed, we depart with no sign of virtue to show, but we are consumed in our malice.”
{5:14} Such things those who sinned said in hell.

The Book of Wisdom characterizes those souls who are sent to Hell by these words. Their arrogance and riches did not prevent them from eternal damnation. Souls such as these “continuously cease to exist” in the sense that they continue to be born, to live sinful lives, and then they die unrepentant. They are forgotten by the world because they contributed nothing of substance by loving God or neighbor; it is as if they never existed. And in Hell, they experience “eternal death”, for their eternal existence in Hell is devoid of all that makes life worth living.

{21:11} The way of sinners is paved and level, and at their end is hell and darkness and punishments.

And there are many other such passages in Sacred Scripture.

The Magisterium of the Church has always taught that Hell exists and that all the souls there are punished eternally, though each according to what his sins deserve.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire’. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”122

And I’ve already repeatedly quoted the infallible teachings of the Council of Florence, the Second Council of Lyons, and the papal bull of Pope Benedict XII, all of which assert that Hell exists and that those who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent there by God. Moreover, the Councils of Florence and of Lyons II both infallibly teach that the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin and the souls of those who die in “original sin alone” are sent to Hell, but to be punished with different punishments. This infallible teaching would be entirely null and void if no one was sent to Hell. For then there would not be different punishments in Hell for different souls.

As one final point on the number of those who are sent to Hell, consider the parable of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus returns in glory with all the holy Angels, as King over all Creation. And then He judges the nations.

{25:31} But when the Son of man will have arrived in his majesty, and all the Angels with him, then he will sit upon the seat of his majesty.
{25:32} And all the nations shall be gathered together before him. And he shall separate them from one another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
{25:33} And he shall station the sheep, indeed, on his right, but the goats on his left.
{25:34} Then the King shall say to those who will be on his right: ‘Come, you blessed of my Father. Possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
{25:35} For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in;
{25:36} naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’
{25:37} Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when have we see you hungry, and fed you; thirsty, and given you drink?
{25:38} And when have we seen you a stranger, and taken you in? Or naked, and covered you?
{25:39} Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit to you?’
{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’
{25:41} Then he shall also say, to those who will be on his left: ‘Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
{25:42} For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and you did not give me to drink;
{25:43} I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not cover me; sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’
{25:44} Then they will also answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
{25:45} Then he shall respond to them by saying: ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did not do it to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.’
{25:46} And these shall go into eternal punishment, but the just shall go into eternal life.”

Jesus judges “all the nations” and they are “gathered together before him.” This phrasing indicates a vast number. They are divided into two and only two groups. One group is gathered to the left, and the other to the right. Neither the condemned, nor the saved, are a few taken out of the large number gathered together. So there must be a significant number in each group. Those who are condemned to “the eternal fire” did not love their neighbor. The description of this failing is various; it includes many acts that these individuals failed to do. So again this indicates that many persons are condemned.

But the description of the deeds of those who were saved by loving their neighbor also varies; there are many ways to love one’s neighbor. This, too, indicates a large number. Many souls are saved because God provides many ways to love God and neighbor.

So while many souls are sent to Hell, most souls are sent to Heaven, usually by way of Purgatory. But then how can we respond to the claim, by some on the far right of Catholic thinking, that we must believe that most souls go to Hell based on the teaching of various Saints? Let’s consider some quotes from these Saints in the light of the teaching of Scripture and the Magisterium.

St. Alphonsus Liguori: “Even as it is, with the existence of Hell, the greater part of men choose to be damned rather than to love Almighty God.”123
First, in the larger work before this quote, he asks how many would be saved if there was no threat of eternal damnation hanging in the balance. Then he asserts that a majority are damned, even with our knowledge of the existence of Hell. His point is that, if Hell did not exist, fewer souls would be saved, for some are saved by fear of damnation.

But in the same paragraph of the same work, St. Alphonsus wrote: “As is clear from the teaching of Saints Peter and Paul, he [God] wishes everyone to be saved and that no one should be lost: ‘Who wills everyone to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4).” There is no way to use this Saint’s words to undermine or contradict the current magisterial teaching on the universal salvific will of God. St. Alphonsus Liguori knew and taught the universal salvific will of God, which is also the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium.

This Saint’s assertion that a majority (“the greater part”) are damned is only an opinion. The Magisterium has never taught a doctrine as to how many, or what percentage, are saved. And that is why I took recourse to the words of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje on the topic. If Saint Alphonsus lived today, given his great devotion to Mary, he may well have accepted her assertion and changed his mind on the topic. But in any case, we must never put the theological opinion of Saints above the teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

Pope Saint Gregory said: “And so the more the wicked abound, so much the more must we suffer them in patience; for on the threshing floor, few are the grains carried into the barns, but high the piles of chaff that are burned with fire.”124
This quote from Pope Gregory is from a sermon, not a magisterial document, and so it represents a theological opinion, not a doctrine. Saint Gregory uses the phrasing “few are the grains”.

Jesus also used the expression “few” when speaking of salvation. However, Jesus did not answer the question, “Lord, are they few who are saved?” Instead, He said: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.” (Lk 13:23-24). Jesus was not willing to say that only a small percentage are saved. The Magisterium is not willing to say that only a small percentage are saved. And so the expression “few” in Scripture and perhaps also as used by some of the Saints, does not necessarily mean that a small percentage are saved.

But we could easily show that the percentage might not be so small, using the same figure employed by Pope Gregory. The edible nutritious grain is separated from the chaff, which is surrounding inedible material. Winnowing is used in this separation, because the chaff is lighter than the grains. But the total weight of the grain is substantial; it is not a small percent of the total weight. The amount of chaff is significant, but does not constitute the vast majority of the weight before winnowing.

Jesus used the figure of wheat versus chaff in the Gospels. So we might conclude from his choice of metaphor that the proportion of good grain to chaff is not so different from the proportion of saved souls to lost souls. If so, then the souls who go to Heaven are greater in number than those lost to Hell.

Saint Augustine: “It is certain, in comparison with the great multitude who will be lost, only a few will be saved.”125
The way is narrow, in that there is only one path to Heaven, the love of God and neighbor. The saved are few, in the sense that few go directly to Heaven when they die; most need purification in Purgatory. The saved are also “few” in the figurative sense; each is a precious and unique child of God. It is certain that “few are saved” in some sense of the word “few”, since Jesus said so. But it is not certain that by “few” Jesus meant a small percentage. Saint Augustine simply erred in his theological opinion on that point.

St. John Chrysostom: “How many, do you think, are in our city, that will be saved? What I must say is awful, but I will say it. Among so many thousands, not one hundred can be found who will be saved.”126
This city was not a devout Christian city, but a pagan city, with few Christians. St. John lived in the mid to late 4th century, before Christianity became widespread. It must have seemed as if less than 100 souls would be saved because the city was sinful and secular, containing few Jews and few Christians.

When Jesus spoke against Capernaum, condemning that city, there may have been a few souls that were saved. We must interpret His words with the understanding that God is merciful and just. The fundamentalist Catholics over-simply the teachings of our religion, thereby producing error. Now it may be that most of the residents of Capernaum died and were condemned to Hell by God. But that does not imply the same for every city. Good persons flee from evil company, like Lot fleeing from the city of Sodom. So a particular city could have a large majority who are on the path to Hell because the good avoid that place. But this would not imply the same about the whole human race.

St. Jerome: “Vix de centum millibus quorum mala vita fuit, meretur in morte a Deo indulgentiam unus.”127

The usual translation: “Out of one hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin until death, scarcely one will be saved.”

My more literal translation of the Latin: “Out of one hundred thousand whose life had been evil, scarcely one obtains at death the leniency of God.”
Saint Jerome is NOT here saying that only few are saved. What he is asserting is that, IF an individual’s whole life has been evil, it is very rare for that person to convert and obtain forgiveness at the time of his death. The usual translation of this text is in error. The Latin sentence does NOT contain any word meaning “saved”, nor does it refer to humanity in general. The text only says that, of those many persons who have lived an evil life without repentance, perhaps only rarely does one obtain forgiveness at the time of his death, that is, by repenting just before dying.

And he is probably right in that assertion. It is to be observed that when someone lives a life of unrepentant grave sin, they rarely repent as death approaches. The grace for repentance is ALWAYS CONTINUOUSLY AVAILABLE. God does not only seek our repentance and conversion at death. The hour of death is the last opportunity to repent, but God does not change. He continuously offers sinners the grace to repent and be forgiven and saved.

{12:32} Do not be afraid, little flock; for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.

The claim is made by some that St. Bede the Venerable wrote: “Christ’s flock is called ‘little’ (Lk 12:32) in comparison with the greater number of reprobates.”

But I could only find a similar comment by another author, in the work called “The Golden Chain”, which is a commentary on the four Gospels drawn from several Saints and Fathers of the Church. That author is a Greek Archbishop, Theophylact of Ochrid, who commented as follows:

“By the little flock, our Lord signifies those who are willing to become His disciples, or because in this world the Saints seem little because of their voluntary poverty, or because they are outnumbered by the multitude of Angels, who incomparably exceed all that we can boast of. The name little our Lord gives to the company of the elect, either from comparison with the greater number of the reprobate, or rather because of their devout humility.”128
St. Bede also comments, in the same work, on the same verse, but he says nothing about the number or percentage of the reprobate (those condemned to Hell).

And notice how the quote of Bishop Theophylact is being misrepresented. It is falsely attributed to St. Bede. And then it is taken out of context. This holy Bishop gave several possible interpretations of this verse, including several that do not view the term “little” as indicating that the reprobate (the condemned) are greater in number than the elect (the saved). But the same might be said of the term “few” in other Scripture verses. The elect might be few in various senses other than by percent or number.

St. Isidore of Seville: “The greater part of men will set no value on the Blood of Christ, and will go on offending Him.”
I could not find a source for this quote. It is commonly stated on websites that promote the idea that few are saved, but few seem to have bothered to ascertain if the Saint actually said those words, and if he did, in what context.

Even if the Saint did write those words, or something similar, it does not imply that the greater part of men are not saved. We are all fallen sinners, and so we all make many mistakes and offend God many times with venial sins. And non-Christians often offend God by objective mortal sins, without perhaps realizing that these acts are sins at all. For example, most non-Catholics do not realize that contraception is gravely immoral. Though they sin gravely, they might still obtain eternal life, through invincible ignorance, the mercy of God, and the work of purification in Purgatory.

St. Hillary of Poitiers: “How few the elect are, may be understood from the multitude being cast out.”
The above claimed quote is inaccurate and not given in full. The entire text is from the Golden Chain; it is a commentary by St. Hillary on the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

{9:23} And when Jesus had arrived in the house of the ruler, and he had seen the musicians and the tumultuous crowd,
{9:24} he said, “Depart. For the girl is not dead, but asleep.” And they derided him.
{9:25} And when the crowd had been sent away, he entered. And he took her by the hand. And the girl rose up.
{9:26} And the news of this went out to that entire land.

St. Hillary comments as follows:

“But that the number of the elect might be known to be but few out of the whole body of believers, the multitude is put forth; the Lord indeed would that they should be saved, but they mocked at His sayings and actions, and so were not worthy to be made partakers of His resurrection.”129
This comment asserts that Jesus wills that all should be saved, but many are not saved because they choose to do evil. However, St. Hillary’s claim that the number of elect is few, even compared to the body of believers (not including those who do not believe) is unsupported by the words of Scripture in that passage.

St. John Chrysostom: “I do not speak rashly, but as I feel and think. I do not think that many priests are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous. The reason is that the office requires a great soul. For there are many things to make a priest swerve from rectitude, and he requires great vigilance on every side.”130
The above text is often cited, but I could not find a source that would state the work of St. John Chrysostom from which it is taken. Perhaps St. John said those words, or something like it.

My understanding is that few priests go directly to Heaven when they die. For the office requires much of them, and there are many ways for them to fail. Many priests fail to live up to the holiness of their calling. But this does not imply that most are condemned to Hell. They obtain Heaven by means of Purgatory and the mercy of God.

And the same can be said of other quotes from Saints about how few are saved and how many are condemned. They rightly perceived that few persons die worthy of direct entrance into Heaven. But they misunderstood how many souls can still obtain Heaven, by means of Purgatory.

The Saints of past centuries did not have the benefit of more recent teachings of the Magisterium, teachings that indicate the extensive work of the Holy Spirit among non-Christians to bring them to salvation. They knew of the universal salvific will of God, but they did not give sufficient consideration to invincible ignorance and to the extensive availability of an implicit baptism of desire and of implicit perfect contrition.

I must also point out that the theological opinion of any number of Saints on a topic does not stand on its own as an infallible dogma. Sometimes a common opinion among Saints is interpreted by the Magisterium as an expression of infallible Sacred Tradition. But other times it is not. Our Faith is based on the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium. The opinion of Saints is useful, but not authoritative — not without a decision of the Magisterium that the words of those Saints is an expression of Sacred Tradition or a correct interpretation of Scripture. And the Magisterium has NEVER taught that the majority of human persons will be sent to Hell, nor that only a small percentage of human persons finally obtain eternal life in Heaven.

As for those Catholics on the far right, who insist on quoting many Saints to the conclusion that few are saved, they sin by ignoring teachings of the Magisterium and quotes from Saints to the contrary. They sin by ignoring any words of Jesus or His Church contrary to their own ideas. They pretend that the opinion of Saints is unanimous on this topic, when it is not.

The same work, The Golden Catena of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is the source of several of the above quotes saying that few are saved, also contains this quote from Saint Cyril of Alexandria:

“Now our Lord does not seem to satisfy him who asked whether there are few that be saved, when He declares the way by which man may become righteous. But it must be observed, that it was our Savior’s custom to answer those who asked Him, not according as they might judge right, as often as they put to Him useless questions, but with regard to what might be profitable to His hearers. And what advantage would it have been to His hearers to know whether there should be many or few who would be saved. But it was more necessary to know the way by which man may come to salvation. Purposely then He says nothing in answer to the idle question, but turns His discourse to a more important subject.”131
St. Cyril is commenting on the passage from Luke 13, in which Jesus is asked if few are saved. But notice what this holy Saint and Doctor of the Church says: Jesus did not answer the question. He did not assert that few are saved. Instead, Jesus was talking about the path of salvation, and how few there are who follow that path well (thereby deserving to enter Heaven directly after death).

And why is it that those who today promote the idea that few are saved give no consideration to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council or of Pope John Paul II? (As of this writing, a date for his canonization is being planned.) They misrepresent the opinion of the Saints, by citing only those whose opinion they prefer. And they ignore more authoritative sources on the same question within magisterial documents. They are the Pharisees of today.

{23:13} So then: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you close the kingdom of heaven before men. For you yourselves do not enter, and those who are entering, you would not permit to enter.

{23:15} Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and by land, in order to make one convert. And when he has been converted, you make him twice the son of Hell that you are yourselves.

{23:28} So also, you certainly appear to men outwardly to be just. But inwardly you are filled with hypocrisy and iniquity.

Another point to consider is the development of doctrine. About the time of Saint Aquinas, the majority opinion among priests and theologians on the question of the salvation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is that she was saved by justification (by being given sanctifying grace) AFTER conception. At that time, the Magisterium had not yet taught that Mary was given sanctifying grace in the first moment of her existence at her Immaculate Conception. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the great, and many others thought, incorrectly, that Mary must have been saved AFTER conception. They were mistaken.

Over time, the idea that Mary was sanctified in the first moment of her existence, so that she was never touched by original sin, grew from a minority opinion — bitterly denounced by some — to a common opinion, to the majority opinion, to a non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium. Finally, this teaching became infallible having been defined under Papal Infallibility and also taught under the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The same process could well happen with some of the more controversial questions on salvation. The doctrine that unbaptized little children go to limbo (the limbo of Hell or limbo as a third final destination) might develop so that it is understood that these little innocent souls are sent to the limbo of Purgatory, and then to Heaven. The common opinion in past times that most souls are lost to Hell might change over time, and the opposite idea, that most go to Heaven, could become the majority opinion. And the idea that non-Christians cannot be saved unless they convert has already fallen out of favor with most Catholics. So we should not simply adopt those opinions that were prevalent in past centuries. We should consider the possibility that some theological ideas will develop and change over time. Furthermore, we are obligated to believe the teachings of the Magisterium, including teachings issued after the time when one Saint or another gave an opinion, as well as those teachings of the Magisterium that contradict a past theological opinion by a Saint. The opinion of Saints never stands alone as a dogma of the Faith. We are required to believe the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, even in contradiction to past theological opinion by Saints.

Now let’s consider some reasons why it might well be true that a majority of persons are saved, being sent to Heaven directly or by way of Purgatory. There is no doubt, based on the sinfulness of this world and the sinfulness of many believers, that the sheer number of souls in Hell is large. But their percentage may fall well below that of a majority.

First of all, we know that God is infinitely merciful and loving; He is Mercy and Love by His very Nature. So the saying of Jesus is accurate, not only about the wealthy, but also concerning all human persons:

{19:23} Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, that the wealthy shall enter with difficulty into the kingdom of heaven.
{19:24} And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
{19:25} And upon hearing this, the disciples wondered greatly, saying: “Then who will be able to be saved?”
{19:26} But Jesus, gazing at them, said to them: “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

In a sense, all fallen adult sinners are the wealthy who enter Heaven only with difficulty. We are wealthy in that we poor sinners have attachments to the material passing things of this life. We are wealthy in that we have been given great undeserved gifts by God. Yet many of the most devout Roman Catholics have committed and continue to commit innumerable venial sins. And the number of Roman Catholics who commit objective mortal sins on a continuing basis is large.

Moreover, no mere human person, even the sinless Blessed Virgin Mary, can attain salvation apart from God. It is impossible for human persons to be saved apart from the free unmerited gift of God. Even so, “with God, all things are possible.” Therefore, we should not be surprised if, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, God is able to save a majority of human persons — despite our many faults and sins. When we consider the sinfulness of humanity, we might conclude that most persons are not saved. But if we next consider the infinite perfect Mercy of God, we should reconsider and conclude that most persons are saved.

Second, we now know that life begins at conception, and that many of these little souls die in the womb by miscarriage. Then, too, a vast number of human persons are killed in the womb by abortion or abortifacient contraception. Given the argument in this book that all unbaptized little children receive a baptism of blood prior to death, we must add their vast number to the number of the elect in Heaven. This factor greatly increases the number, and significantly increases the percentage, of human persons who reach Heaven.

In addition, throughout most of human history, until the early 20th century, most human persons died in childhood. The medicines and medical knowledge of humanity prior to that point in time were insufficient, resulting in a majority of the population dying in childhood, especially early childhood. Again, with the conclusion that unbaptized little children go to Heaven, if they die at that tender age, the number of saved souls increases greatly.

Third, the development of doctrine in the last few generations has further explored the extent to which God may offer salvation to non-Christians. The doctrine of invincible ignorance was taught by the Second Vatican Council, along with the assertion that a human person who does not know about Christianity can still be saved.

Second Vatican Council: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”132
Initially, this doctrine presupposed that the individual did not know about Christianity and the Catholic Church at all. The assertion that such a person can be a non-formal member of the Church allows many more persons to be saved. For most human persons are presently non-Christians.

And notice that the Council excuses those who fail to arrive at “an explicit knowledge of God”, if they are without blame. For as the Council also says: “Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity.”133 The concept of invincible ignorance is also found in the CCC: “If — on the contrary — the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.”134 This teaching implies that a failure to accept Christianity, even when Christ and His Church are well-known, might not be culpable to the extent of an actual mortal sin. And only unrepented actual mortal sin condemns a person to Hell.

Pope John Paul II also taught on the extensive availability of salvation in his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio:

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.”135
And in a subsequent general audience, the holy Pontiff extended the possibility of invincible ignorance and salvation even to those who “outwardly reject” the Church.136 They know about Christianity and the Church, and they refuse to convert, yet they can still be saved. They do not realize that Christianity is the true path to Heaven. They lack the full knowledge needed for any objective mortal sin to be also an actual mortal sin, and so they may still be saved.

The Church teaches a distinction between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin. Those persons who know about Christ and His Church may still be saved, despite the objective mortal sin of rejecting Christianity, if they lack the full knowledge (specifically, knowledge of the grave immorality of the chosen act) needed for any sin to be an actual mortal sin deserving of Hell. This principle can be applied to Jews and Muslims. For the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other recent magisterial documents have praised the faith and devotion of Jews and Muslims. It can also be applied to believers in other religions, and to agnostics and atheists.

As a result of these most recent teachings of the Magisterium on salvation, Catholics today cannot simply adopt the opinions of Saints who lived in the distant past. For no Saint would ignore or reject the teachings of Popes and Councils, neither in choosing what to believe, nor in forming an opinion on an open question of theology. Certain Catholic teachers today have gone astray from the true Faith by boldly proclaiming that all unbaptized little children and all non-Christians (who know about Christianity and yet do not convert) are condemned to Hell. These false teachers show no religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, nor to any recent magisterial teaching with which they themselves disagree.

Fourth, Jesus gives us the answer as to how a majority of human persons can be saved, despite the sinfulness of Christians and of non-Christians.

{9:9} And when Jesus passed on from there, he saw, sitting at the tax office, a man named Matthew. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And rising up, he followed him.
{9:10} And it happened that, as he was sitting down to eat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners arrived, and they sat down to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
{9:11} And the Pharisees, seeing this, said to his disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
{9:12} But Jesus, hearing this, said: “It is not those who are healthy who are in need of a physician, but those who have maladies.
{9:13} So then, go out and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the just, but sinners.”

Jesus came to save sinners. If we conclude that the vast majority of human persons, or the majority of Christians, are going to Hell, then we have in effect contradicted Jesus. It is as if we think that Jesus only saves the just, not sinners. Few, far too few, are the just and holy of this life. But Jesus has the power to save sinners, even those whose actions are objective mortal sins.

{21:28} But how does it seem to you? A certain man had two sons. And approaching the first, he said: ‘Son, go out today to work in my vineyard.’
{21:29} And responding, he said, ‘I am not willing.’ But afterwards, being moved by repentance, he went.
{21:30} And approaching the other, he spoke similarly. And answering, he said, ‘I am going, lord.’ And he did not go.
{21:31} Which of the two did the will of the father?” They said to him, “The first.” Jesus said to them: “Amen I say to you, that tax collectors and prostitutes shall precede you, into the kingdom of God.
{21:32} For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Yet even after seeing this, you did not repent, so as to believe him.”

Jesus saves sinners, and so it is possible for a majority of human persons to be saved, despite the great prevalence of sin in this world. Our Lord gives the example of prostitutes, representing all those human persons who commit sexual sins. Our Lord gives the example of tax collectors, representing all those human persons who commit sins of greed or violence (like the Roman tax collectors of that time period). If even the worst sinners of Jesus’ day, tax collectors and prostitutes, could enter the kingdom of God, then so can the worst sinners of the present day — if only they die in the state of grace. For Jesus positively taught that some prostitutes and tax collectors precede some teachers of religion into the kingdom of Heaven.

Some of the Saints wondered whether those who are saved might be very few. They were like the Apostles and disciples, being astonished at how few persons follow the narrow path marked out by Christ. But after representing how narrow the path to Heaven is, by the figure of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, our Lord gives the answer: “with God all things are possible.”

It should be the case that those who are saved are few. But the mercy and power of God is infinite, and so those who are saved are many. Still, the opinion of some Saints is not far off the mark: few souls go directly to Heaven. A majority are saved only because God permits them a time of purification in Purgatory (which may be very long for some sinners).

Fifth, Saint Paul teaches that the graces offered by Christ to reconcile man to God are greater than the sins that have separated us from God.

{5:18} Therefore, just as through the offense of one, all men fell under condemnation, so also through the justice of one, all men fall under justification unto life.
{5:19} For, just as through the disobedience of one man, many were established as sinners, so also through the obedience of one man, many shall be established as just.
{5:20} Now the law entered in such a way that offenses would abound. But where offenses were abundant, grace was superabundant.
{5:21} So then, just as sin has reigned unto death, so also may grace reign through justice unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This passage from Sacred Scripture says that “all men fall under justification unto life”, meaning that God offers salvation to all human persons. But we are all sinners, so we don’t all accept the offer. Even so, Christ defeated sin and death, so that grace would be “superabundant”. And in this way “many shall be established as just”, meaning that many are saved. So again we see that Sacred Scripture does not teach that most persons are condemned; rather, the teaching is that grace is much greater than sin, and so we have good reason to hope that many, even most souls, are saved.

However, if a person commits one or more actual mortal sins, and refuses, through the last moment of life, to cooperate with grace in order to repent and be forgiven, then that person dies in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin and loses the eternal salvation offered to all human persons. All who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin will certainly be condemned by God to Hell forever.

Pope Benedict XII: “Moreover we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell.”137


122 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1035.

123 St. Alphonsus Liguori, “Divine Love and the Means of Acquiring It”, n. 1; in Selected Writings, Saint Alfonso Maria Liguori, Paulist Press: 1999.

124 The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume 4, edited by M. F. Toal, section III, Pope St. Gregory the great, p. 231.

125 Johann Evangelist Zollner, The Pulpit Orator, Volume 5, fourth edition, p. 206.

126 Ibid.

127 Alphonse de Liguori, “Preparation for death, or considerations on the eternal maxims useful for all as a book of medications”, (Dublin: James Duffy, 1863), p. 90; quoting St. Jerome and citing “Epis. Euseb. de Morte Ejusd.”

128 Aquinas, Thomas (2011-04-19). Catena Aurea: Volume 1-4 (Kindle Location 29724). Primedia E-Launch. Kindle Edition.

129 Aquinas, Thomas (2011-04-19). Catena Aurea: Volume 1-4 (Kindle Locations 6101-6103). Primedia E-Launch. Kindle Edition.

130 William L. Biersach, The Search for Saint Valeria, a novel, p. 48.

131 Aquinas, Thomas (2011-04-19). Catena Aurea: Volume 1-4 (Kindle Locations 30358-30363). Primedia E-Launch. Kindle Edition.

132 Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 16.

133 Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, n. 16.

134 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1793.

135 Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 10.

136 Pope John Paul II, “All Salvation Comes through Christ”, 31 May 1995.

137 Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God, Constitution issued in 1336.

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11 Responses to Are The Saved Many or Few? Book Excerpt

  1. Ron Conte says:

    JP2 made no such statement about Hell being empty. You are using an exaggerated interpretation of a passing comment to put an assertion of heresy in the mouth of the Pope. Here is what the Ecumenical Councils infallibly teach and it is entirely incompatible with an empty Hell:

  2. Ron Conte says:

    Anything in conformity with doctrine.

  3. Jeff says:

    In the current temporal lust for all things worldly amid the flesh, at the height of the devils power, humans forget the meaning of the words “eternal” and “forever”. If they weighed these words in, the next remark would be fewer. Purely speculative, but given that almost no one is in line at confession, and that it would be utterly foolish to assume that no one else who isn’t taking advantage of the sacrament is NOT in a state of mortal sin, today’s world sees ~95% going to hell. The old funeral home RIP moniker presuming everyone who dies is going to heaven is simply false.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You assume that God has failed in His universal salvific will. You assume that grace is only what is seen and acknowledged by you. You vastly underestimate the power of the Cross.

  4. Vít Lacman says:

    Will you write an article about the site

  5. Vít Lacman says:

    What about 1 Peter 4:18?

    • Ron Conte says:

      {4:18} And if the just man will scarcely be saved, where will the impious and the sinner appear?

      We are saved by a free gift, and we are all sinners, so one could say that we are all scarcely saved, who are saved. Many persons are saved by means of Purgatory, as they are not fit for Heaven, but do not deserve eternal punishment. The verse does not answer the question, though, as to how many are saved. We know that all who are saved must be saved by Christ and His Church, at least by implicit membership.

  6. MichaelT says:

    My speculation is that, sadly, 1 out of 3 choose to forego their heavenly inheritance. The basis for my thinking is found in the Book of Revelation 12:3–6:

    “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.”

    While John may have been referring to the fallen angels, I’ve noticed patterns, and patterns within patterns, regarding all things pertaining to God, so I believe it’s entirely possible approximately the same number could apply to us as well.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I do think most souls are saved, as the grace of God cannot fail to be fecund. I think the third of stars is those who fall from the Church to the Antichrist, especially Bishops. A third of the Bishops fall away, along with perhaps a third of the members of the Church. But perhaps some repent at the end of the Antichrist’s reign.

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