Friday, August 20, 2010

Will only a few be saved?

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 13:22-30
“Someone asked Jesus, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’ He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
Today, it is the common opinion of the affluent countries of the west, that all (or nearly all) people will be saved. This view is, however, contrary to the estimation of the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Moreover, Christ himself tells us that only a few will be saved.
Many will attempt to enter the gates of heaven, but will not. The way to heaven is narrow and few find it (cf. Mt 7:13-14). These words are difficult for the modern world to accept, precisely because the modern world refuses to admit the reality and gravity of sin. If there is no real sin (and no serious sin), then clearly there is no hell. But if sin is real and can be serious, then it can also be mortal, killing the soul by destroying charity, incurring the punishment of eternal damnation.
And so, we may begin our study of this Sunday’s gospel by looking for something of an answer to the question, “Will only a few be saved?” Or, “How many will be saved?” In a later post, we will consider what it is that makes hell to be eternal.

How many will be saved?
The number of the elect, those who are to be saved, is foreknown and brought about by God. He wills that these be saved not only for their own individual good, but also for the good of the whole universe. He knows and wills their salvation not merely in general (in the way that he wills all people to be saved), but with a particular effective will for each individual which brings that man to salvation.
Many have offered diverse opinions as to the number of the elect. Some (the Jehovah’s witnesses ) hold that it will be the 144,000 of Revelation 7:1ff and 14:1ff [correction: the Jehovah's witnesses hold that the 144k will rule in heaven, while there will be a great multitude of others saved as well]. Within the Catholic tradition, the number of those to be saved has often been connected with the angels. Some have held that as many men will be saved as the angels who fell – as though we take the place which the fallen angels lost. Others held that the number of the elect is equal to the number of angels who remained faithful. Finally, some held that as many men will be saved as there were angels created in total (both the good and wicked angels taken together). None of these opinions seems likely.
First, it is clear that the 144,000 of Revelation, according to the literal sense, means a vast multitude, not the particular number. As most know, 144 is 12 times 12; by multiplying this with 100, you get 144,000. Thus, salvation goes out from the 12 tribes of Israel, to all the world.
There are also good reasons to reject the opinions of some of the early Church writers who connected the number of those to be saved with the angels. St. Thomas argued that the number of angels incomparably exceeds the number of material beings – for they are far more perfect than creatures of the material world and are therefore not limited in their diversity by matter (cf. ST I, q.50, a.3). Consider how greatly matter limits those things which the imagination could create – as the ideas in the mind far exceed the creative potential of the material world, angels greatly exceed men in number!
This means that any numerical comparison between angels and men will be inaccurate. Hence, whether we compare the men who are saved with the fallen angels (1/3 of the total number of angels) or with the good angels (2/3 of the total number) or with all the angels, the elect are incomparably less in number than the angels.
For this reason, St. Thomas says, it is better not to speculate about the number of those who are to be saved, for such is known to God alone. From the words of Christ, however, we know that the elect who are saved are few in comparison with the majority who are damned, but this elect remnant will be raised up and united with the angels of God to make a vast and expansive multitude. (cf. Catena Aurea on Luke 13:22-30)


tom sheepandgoats said...

Not that it's your main point, I understand, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that the number saved will be limited to 144K. Rather, that's the number who rule with the Christ from heaven. They certainly are "saved," as you point out, but also saved from the conclusion of this system of things is an unnumbered "great crowd," described at the end of Revelation chapt 7, who have the hope of living forever on earth ruled over by that heavenly gov't.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the clarification! My mistake. It is quite important that we not attribute false opinions to others, so thank you for the correction!
I will update the post...

Wild Bill said...

Not to belabor the point about the incomparability of men with angels, but it is a categorical difference. Men were created to be members of the Body of Christ, angels were not.

Iosephus Sebastianus said...

Reginalde, is it not true that some of the Fathers held that the "few" here can be reckoned in comparison with the number of the angels rather than in comparison with the number of the damned?

Anonymous said...

The articles and Biblical verses on "being saved" and the "eternity of hell" are very clear, as is Catholic teaching. Are there opinions on the words of JESUS from the DIVINE MERCEY devotion in regards to Salvation? JESUS clearly stated that he would show mercy to even the most hardened sinner for praying the chaplet. In my opinion, any grace would be a judgement other than hell. Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (Aug 22, 5:02pm),
"any grace would be a judgment other than hell."
You raise an interesting question...certainly all people are given sufficient grace to attain salvation. But this grace is given in this life, not to the souls in hell. Even the damned do, however, experience something of God's mercy--God keeps them in existence.
They would rather fall out of existence, but this would truly be worse for is better to exist in hell than not to exist at all--but they do wish that they had never been born.
Still, this is a small "grace" or "gift" of God's mercy, by which he gives them something which they do not deserve: existence.

I hope that this helps. While we life, there is always room for conversion and grace!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

First, thank you for using the Vocative!

You are, of course, quite correct...some Fathers (mostly eastern) are open to the idea that the "few" saved are few in relation to the multitude of angels...
This does not seem to be in full accord with the Biblical text however, since the "few" are contrasted to the "many" who try to enter but are not strong enough...
As is often the case, especially in matters dealing with salvation and grace, it is safer to follow the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine...he maintains that very few are saved.

However, this is an area of legitimate theological diversity...there is no official teaching and many contemporary theologians would want to move in the direction you hint toward (Hans Urs von Balthasar, for example).

Peace and blessings, my brother!

Anonymous said...

Not to be-labor a point, JESUS tells St. Faustina "...even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy..." And as I recall, St. Faustina wrote that most souls in hell are those that never believed in hell. I'm just a lay person, trying to make it to heaven, but for JESUS to use GRACE with INFINITE MERCY in the same statement gives the connotation other than hell. I think most can visualize what a hardened sinner, un-repentent, self centered, non believer, etc. Yet JESUS almost tells St.Faustina that if you can get this type of person to recite my chaplet, I'll show them mercy. At least that is my interpretation. We know from the Bible and chaplet that GOD's infinite mercy and love surpasses all....

Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ Anonymous (aug 24, 5:56am),

Thank you for reminding us of the infinite power of Divine Mercy.

So long as we are alive, if we only turn to that mercy we will live forever in heaven.

However, sadly, it seems that many (perhaps even most) people do not turn to this mercy. Rather, they remain in their sin and disbelief.

Heaven is indeed very easy to attain (with the grace of Christ). This is what makes the pain of hell so great, that the damned will know how easily they could have been saved, if only they had prayed! After their death and damnation, they are full of hate and the realization of the power of prayer and of the mercy of God only increases the hatred of these wretched souls.

Again, thank you for reminding us all that hell is easily avoided, by of the mercy of God.

I wrote this post to remind us all that, if we do not avail ourselves of the Lord's mercy, we will surely be damned.

Unknown said...

Thanks, for your POST!

God bless you
Michael Gormley

Anonymous said...

One should also remember the context of the *private revelation* (albeit approved) of the Divine Mercy. It is not saying that all hardened sinners will be saved, but rather that IF they turn to the Divine Mercy even those in the deepest pits of sin and despair can be saved through the grace of Christ.

If anything, it should remind us to guard against presumption as well as despair. Warming the pews on Sunday and not killing anyone is not enough and one should not be of the mind that, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as THAT guy..." because that is not going to cut it and already betrays a certain lack of charity.

There are plenty of stories from saints about hardened, seemingly assuredly hell-bound sinners being saved by seemingly miniscule means. That should never be taken as a parry to the pretty established teaching of the Fathers, Doctors and Saints about the fewness of those to be saved.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (aug 27, 2:43am),

Thank you for a very well-worded and persuasive comment!
You strike a perfect balance (it seems to me) between confidence in the mercy of God and zeal for growth in holiness.

Blessings to you!

Richard said...

As I continue to ponder, I still go back to my Divine Mercy study guide. Jesus said if someone recites the chaplet in the presence of the dying, HE would be the merciful Savior, not the just judge. I realize this is open to interpretation, but would this apply to even a non believer? If the non believer was dying and a Catholic was praying the Divine Mercy devotion could that person be saved? I love the discussions on your page and of course the teachings.

I hope this is not too old to revisit. Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

While I would not want to say that the Divine Mercy Chaplet would certainly and infallibly gain the grace of salvation for a non-believer for whom we pray, I would certainly agree that there is great hope in the power of that prayer.
God answers the prayers of believers on behalf of unbelievers because of our friendship with him, even though the others be his enemies. Much as a father might take pity on an enemy simply because that father's enemy has gained the friendship of the father's son.
St. Thomas offers a similar explanation at the end of the ST II-II, when asking if we can gain the first grace for another.

Richard said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Please read this about the Jehovah's Witnesses 144k doctrine:

De Liliis said...

'Out of one hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin until death, scarcely one will be saved.'

St. Jerome, Doctor, Father of the Church

Further food for thought..

I find it always makes me work harder to think on this subject.. so it is helpful..

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, many believers today are just that, "believers." Their status of "Catholic" is based on belonging to a Catholic family and having been baptized as infants. As far as practicing their living faith in Christ, such is non-present. They are Catholic by name only.

Those who are Catholic by name only, since they are not practicing their faith, they are not receiving the Sacraments. Since they are not receiving the Sacraments, especially those of Confession and the Holy Eucharist, they are living in an ongoing state of sin and they are rejecting the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of God that is bestowed to those who feed on the Bread of Life. (the Holy Eucharist)

Naturally, in such cases, it is understandable why few are saved. Many have chosen the worldly ways by taking the wide road to perdition.

Wojciech said...

If holy character of God and His unchangeable attributes are an indication of things to come then consider that only 8 people were saved in Noah's Ark from destruction. Therefore, only a few people were saved at that time to serve the God's purpose. Thousands and perhaps millions of other people perished in the Great Delude. If our Lord Jesus Christ says that only a few will be saved then this is EXACTLY what is going to happen.

The burning question is: Do you trust His words to relay on them for your salvation?

Matthew 19:26

"With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."

Anonymous said...

Mother Angelica on EWTN would always say (when she was doing her weekly show)to pray daily for those who will die a sudden and unprovided death. The Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Rosary are two powerful devotional prayers that move God to his unfathomable mercy. According to the latest census figures 155,000 people die every day in this world. Even if one soul is saved through these prayers God will show mercy to you and I.

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