This is a serious statement from Our Lord. Many theologians have reflected on these words but are also divided on this point. There is no doubt that, in this sentence, the chosen ones are the elects, the members of the triumphant Church who are saved in Heaven. Catholic Encyclopedia explains: There is some doubt as to whether it refers to mere membership, or to a more exalted degree. This distinction is important; if the word implies mere membership in the Church Triumphant, then the chosen ones, or those who will be saved, are few, and the non-members in the Church Triumphant are many; if the word denotes a special degree of glory, then few will attain this rank, and many will fail to do so, though many are called to it.
If we accept the first interpretation, then we can draw a terrible conclusion, which is that the great majority of men go to hell, with the danger that God may appear as a cruel and avenging God. The second term of the alternative is less frightening. It is not about being saved or reproved, but just about reaching a higher degree of glory in heaven. The danger here would be to consider God as a loving and tender God who cannot send anybody in hell, and who forgives everyone.
In matter of faith, which t is an important matter, because it is precisely a matter of salvation as we have seen it last Sunday, it is extremely important to be as much objective as we can and to not jump on immediate conclusions. Faith is nor a feeling neither a personal interpretation of God, but the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God. ( St Thomas) Now, we can give our assent to a Divine truth only if it has been revealed by God Himself. There are different degrees of assent based on different degrees of revelations or of authority. The highest degree is De fide divina et catholica that includes all the truths contained in the written words of God or tradition that have been taught by the ordinary or extraordinary teaching authority of the Church as divinely revealed. The denial of such a truth constitutes a sin of heresy as we said last Sunday.
Now, theology is a science as it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science. (St Thomas) In this case these principles are revealed by God. The principles have to be accepted by everyone, as they have been taught by God Himself, but not all the theological conclusions are object of faith.
In our present discussion, we know for sure that the number of the predestined is certain and can neither be increased nor diminished, as Saint Augustine says. The number of the elect is known, but only by God. The end of the world will come when this number will be complete. We also know that this number in itself is very great. Saint John saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands. Yet, we do not know what this number is. Father Garrigou-Lagrange says: When we speak of men exclusively, we do not know, first of all, if among the worlds scattered in space the earth is the only one that is habitable. But if we restrict our question to men on our planet, the number of the elect remains a matter of controversy.
Many Fathers and Doctors think that those who are saved do not represent the greater number. Among them we can mention with Father Garrigou-Lagrange Saints Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Leo the Great, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas. Then, nearer to our own times: Molina, St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, Vasquez, Lessius, and St. Alphonsus. We certainly have to highly value this opinion as it is the one of great theologians, Doctors and Saints. Yet we do not have to over-value it. All of these great theologians give this view as opinion, not as revealed truth, not as certain conclusion, Father Garrigou-Lagrange says.
With Father Monsabre, we can also say: Remark that Our Lord does not tell us definitely the number of the good and of the wicked. To those who demanded a clear pronouncement, He was content to reply: 'Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many . . . shall seek to enter and shall not be able.' The rigorists will tell me possibly that Jesus here hides the mystery of His justice, in order not to frighten timorous souls. As for myself, I prefer to think that He hides here the mystery of His mercy, that we may avoid presumption.
Finally, since the number of the elect remains unknown to us, let us conclude with Father Garrigou-Lagrange that since we cannot arrive at certitude in this question it is better to acknowledge our ignorance than to discourage the faithful by a doctrine which is too rigid, to expose them to danger by a doctrine which is too superficial. For each one of us, the important question is not how many will be saved, but rather, shall I be saved? The Council of Trent, quoting Saint Augustine, says: God never commands the impossible. But He warns us to do what we can, and to ask of Him the grace to accomplish what we of ourselves cannot do, and He aids us to fulfill what He commands. What I know for sure is that God gives me what I need to go to heaven. What would be the point of arguing on the number of the elect while you are even not working to become one of them? One day we will know this number. We would better know it, being in heaven rather than in hell.
May Our Lady of Prompt Succor help us to keep the Grace of God and to arrive safe in Heaven.