“How many are saved?” “What is the number of the elect?” Questions such as these are common. I do not intend to offer a definitive answer to these questions; that would be great presumption on my part (not even Jesus told us how many would be saved; rather He told us to love and obey Him). The purpose of this article is to provide reasons for doubting the most restrictive view of salvation.
Those who will derive the most consolation from this article (and it is for these relative few that it is primarily written) are those who have read the most restrictive view on salvation. I allude here to the writings of a particular Saint. As there is no obligation to say more than the Scriptures, I believe it would be imprudent to share his writings.
Some Preliminary Points
+ However many souls are saved, God is all good (the more we believe it, the more we will see it; therefore, cultivate hope in God e.g. by meditating on the Passion, or reading a simple book like ‘A Call to Souls’ by Sr. Josefa Menendez) + The devil can appear as “an angel of light” and deceive us with false visions etc. + Even canonized Saints have believed that they had certain revelations that were evidently false (e.g. http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/MARY523.HTM#27 — see ‘Appendix: Discernment of Spirits’) + Even great and influential Saints have been wrong on crucial issues (e.g. St. Augustine’s ‘massa damnata’ theory and denial of the universal salvific will: http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/AUGUSTIN.htm. St. Alphonsus also indirectly refutes St. Augustine on this point: http://www.catholictreasury.info/books/prayer/pr16.php) + The imagery in Scripture that refers to the number of the saved is not straightforward (compare the number of grapes left in a vineyard after harvest, to some of the New Testament passages or parables e.g. Parable of The Ten Virgins, the good fish and the bad fish, the wheat and the cockle etc.) + The Church teaching on “No Salvation Outside the Church” has been clarified since the 19th century (the Church has not changed its teachings; rather, God- in His infinitely wise and loving Providence- has clarified our understanding of this doctrine. The Church has always implicitly taught that salvation is possible to non-Catholics e.g. by means of an act of perfect contrition. It is worth adding- only because they do not add anything new to Church teaching- that Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, St. Padre Pio and others confirm this fact.) + As Lagrange reminds us, the number of the elect is known only to God (one Saint apparently learnt through revelation that a particular percentage of people will be saved) + Even certain Saints who believed that the majority are lost, still believed that many are saved (which could hardly be said for the Saint alluded to in this article).
Some Optimistic Considerations
Now, let us consider which souls are certainly saved:
+ Baptized infants (this number alone is very great).
+ The Saints.
+ Blesseds e.g. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
+ Those who were reconciled to God at the moment of death (e.g. by means of the intercession of the Saints or a family member. We read frequently of such examples in the lives of the Saints.)
+ Those who die having sincerely confessed all their sins.
These considerations are sufficient to assure us that certain writings of the Saints are not dogma. To the aforementioned number we could add: those who faithfull fulfill the Nine First Fridays devotion, those who persevere in devotion to Mary, those who have a sincere devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows (it was revelealed to a Saint that no soul who had practised this devotion faithfully had yet been lost) etc.
Holy fear is very useful in detaching us from sin, and as Fr. Faber says, a holy fear of God and Hell is a solid foundation in the spiritual life. Nevertheless, God does not want us to give in to despondency. His love for us is so great that if we only entrust ourselves to God’s merciful love and Providence, we will see that (and numerous Saints have confirmed this) God will preserve us from serious sin, which is the only thing that can separate us from God. Even then, God is so generous as to offer us the grace of perfect contrition, which reconciles us to Him instantly!
St. Frances de Sales is an excellent guide in the spiritual life. The following words of his, though address to nuns, are truly applicable to all: “Jesus Christ, full of gentleness sweetly invites you saying: ‘Come, very beloved soul . . . Look at the Most Holy Virgin who invites you like a mother and says to you: ‘Courage, my daughter . . . Look at the Saints who exhort you and that multitude of holy souls who with great sweetness invite you desiring to see one day your heart united with those who eternally praise God, and they assure you that the road to Heaven is not as difficult as the world paints it. Have courage, they tell you, because if you consider well the road of love by which we have ascended, you will see that we have arrived at these delights by other delights incomparably more sweet than those of the world” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1, Chapter 17).
“The mercy of God is infinite. I have seen that at the time of the Deluge, many, very many were saved from eternal punishment. Fright and anguish converted them to God.”
– Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich (p. 91 of ‘The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations Complete’)
*The Deluge (in which eight were saved from the flood) is often referred to by certain Saints and pious authors as a type for (or allusion to) the number of souls saved.
“I saw too that, by prayer and the offering of sufferings for others, many souls that have done no good upon earth may be converted and saved at the hour of death.”
– Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich (p. 53 of ‘The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations Complete’)
More could be said on this topic, but what has been said suffices to plant a seed of holy optimism in God’s love and mercy, which desires our salvation with such ardour that Our Lord revealed the following to Bl. Dina Belanger:
“My Heart so loves souls that to obtain the affection of a single one, though it were the most miserable, the least worthy, I would have suffered infinitely more than I did during my whole mortal life, had it been possible.”
Our Lord does not want us to be lost. As St. Joseph Cafasso said: “Hope in Him and Heaven is yours!”
“… our Lord revealed to St. Gertrude that he would be ready to die as many times as there were souls damned, if they were yet capable of redemption: “I would die as many deaths as there are souls in hell.”
(Taken from p. 29 of ‘The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ’ by St. Alphonsus)