"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."

Thomas á Kempis

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP


 PART 5 : HEAVEN (cont)



Aany works have been written on the number of the elect. We may refer particularly to the article in the Dictionnaire de theologie catholique. [664] Here we restrict ourselves to that which is certain, or at least very probable, in agreement with the great majority of theologians.

The Mystery of This Number

The number of the elect is known only by God. "The Lord knoweth who are His." [665] The liturgy says that this number is known to Him alone. [666] This is reaffirmed also by St. Thomas. [667] The end of the world will come when the number of the elect is complete, when the succession of human generations has reached its goal.

This number in itself is very great: "I heard the number of them that were signed (of the servants of God), a hundred forty-four thousand were signed, of every tribe of the children of Israel.... After this, I
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." [668]

If we count both angels and men, the number of the elect seems to be higher than that of the reprobate. Thus St. Thomas, [669] because, according to the testimony of Scripture [670] and tradition, most of the angels remained faithful. As regards angels, says St. Thomas, [671] evil happens only in the minority of cases, because, since the angel has neither sense power nor passions, he does not run the risk of remaining satisfied with an inferior form of life.

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 theologians incline to the smaller number of the elect, because it is said in Scripture: "Many are called, but few are chosen." [672] Again: "Enter you in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction; and many there are who go in thereat; how narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life and few there are that find it." [673] Still, these texts are not absolutely demonstrative. Thus, following many others, Pere Monsabre [674] remarks: "If these words were intended for all places and for all times, then the opinion of the small number of the elect would triumph. But we are permitted to think that they are meant, directly, for the ungrateful time of our Savior's own preaching. When Jesus wishes us to think of the future, He speaks in another manner. Thus He says to His disciples: 'If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself.' [675] 'The gates of hell shall not prevail against (My Church).' [676] And showing us the results of the last judgment, He says: 'The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting.' " [677]

Monsabre continues: "Remark that He 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." [678]

The common opinion of the Fathers and ancient theologians is without doubt that those who are saved do not represent the greater number. We may cite in favor of this view the following 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. But they give this view as opinion, not as revealed truth, not as certain conclusion.

In the last century the contrary opinion, namely, of the greater number of the elect, was defended by Father Faber in England, by Monsignor Bougaud in France, by Father Castelein, S.J., in Belgium.

To conclude: some insist on the mercy of God, others on the justice of God. Neither one side nor the other gives us certitude. And the reasons of appropriateness which each invokes differ very much from the reasons of appropriateness invoked in favor of a dogma which is already certain by revelation, whereas here we are treating of a truth that is not certain.

Theologians in general are inclined to fill out what Scripture and tradition tell us by distinguishing the means of salvation given to Catholics from those that are given men of good will beyond the borders of the Church.

Restricting the question to Catholics, we find the doctrine, generally held especially since Suarez, that, if we consider merely adults, the number of the elect surpasses that of the reprobate. If adult Catholics do at one time or another sin mortally, nevertheless they can arise in the tribunal of penance, and there are relatively few who at the end of life do not repent, or even refuse to receive the sacraments.

But if we are treating of all Christians, of all who have been baptized, Catholic, schismatic, Protestant, it is more probable, theologians generally say, that the great number is saved. First, the number of infants who die in the state of grace before reaching the age of reason is very great. Secondly, many Protestants, being today in good faith, can be reconciled to God by an act of contrition, particularly in danger of death. Thirdly, schismatics can receive a valid absolution.

If the question is of the entire human race, the answer must remain uncertain, for the reasons given above. But even if, absolutely, the number of the elect is less great, the glory of God's government cannot suffer. Quality prevails over quantity. One elect soul is a spiritual universe; Further, no evil happens that is not permitted for a higher good. Further, among non-Christians (Jews, Mohammedans, pagans) there are souls which are elect. Jews and Mohammedans not only admit monotheism, but retain fragments of primitive revelation and of Mosaic revelation. They believe in a God who is a supernatural rewarder, and can thus, with the aid of grace, make an act of contrition. And even to pagans, who live in invincible, involuntary ignorance of the true religion, and who still attempt to observe the natural law, supernatural aids are offered, by means known to God. These, as Pius IX says, [679] can arrive at salvation. God never commands the impossible. To him who does what is in his power God
does not refuse grace. [680]

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.

The important thing is to observe the commandments of God. St. Augustine [681] said, and the Council of Trent repeats: [682] "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."

Let us put our confidence in Jesus Christ, [683] "the victim of propitiation for our sins," [684] "the Lamb of God, . . . who taketh away the sin of the world." [685] "Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid." [686]

The Signs of Predestination

The Council of Trent [687] has declared that we cannot have on earth certitude of our predestination without a special revelation. Aside from this special revelation no man can know if he will persevere in good works to the end. Nevertheless there are signs of predestination which give a kind of moral certitude that one will persevere. The Fathers, especially St. Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard, St. Anselm, have enumerated certain of these signs, following the directions of Scripture.

Theologians enumerate eight signs of predestination. First, a good life; secondly, the testimony of a good conscience; thirdly, patience in adversities for love of God; fourthly, relish for the light and the word of God; fifthly, mercy toward those who suffer; sixthly, love of enemies; seventhly, humility; eighthly, special devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Patience in adversity shows how inequality of natural conditions is compensated for by divine grace. This is the truth expressed in the beatitudes: Blessed the poor in spirit, blessed the meek, blessed those who weep, blessed those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed the merciful, blessed the pure of heart, blessed the peacemakers, blessed those who suffer persecution for justice. These possess the kingdom of God. To bear patiently and perseveringly a heavy cross is a great sign of predestination.

Theologians sometimes add these special signs: first, a great intimacy with God in prayer; secondly, perfect mortification of the passions; thirdly, the ardent desire to suffer much for the glory of Christ Jesus;
fourthly, an indefatigable zeal for souls.

We may here remind the reader of the great promise of the Sacred Heart, to those who receive Communion well on nine successive first Fridays. This promise, we have said, [688] is absolute though it supposes that Communion has been well made for these nine times. This would be, therefore, a grace given only to the elect.

The mystery of predestination reminds us that we can do nothing without the grace of Christ. [689] "What hast thou," says St. Paul, "that thou hast not received?" [690] But predestination does not make superfluous our own efforts because adults must merit eternal life. No one is in heaven unless he has died in the state of grace. No one can go to hell except by his own fault. We are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ, if we suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him. [691]


664. Dict. theol. cath., "Elus."
665. II Tim. 2:19.
666. God alone knows the number of the elect.
667. Ia, q. 23, a. 7.
668. Apoc. 7:4-9.
669. Ia, q. 63, a. 9. I Book of Sentences, dist. 39, q. 2, a. 2 ad 4.
670. Dan. 1:10.
671. Ia, q.63, a. 9 ad 1.
672. Matt. 20:16; 22:14.
673. Ibid., 7:14.
674. Conferences de Notre Dame, no. 102.
675. John 12 32.
676.  Matt. 16:18.
677. Ibid., 25:46.
678. Luke 13:24.
679. Denz., no. 1677. Cf. St. Augustine, De nature et gratia chap. 43, no. 50.
680. Children who die without baptism go to limbo. They do not suffer, since they do not know that they have been called to see God face to face. They know Him with a natural knowledge and have a certain natural beatitude, though they cannot, by reason of original sin, attain an efficacious love of God, author of nature. This truth shows indirectly the glory and the grandeur of baptism.
681. De natura et gratia, chap. 43, no. 50.
682. Denz., no. 804.
683. 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
684. John 1:29.
685.  Heb 4 16.
686. On this point Bossuet says: "Why does Jesus wish us to enter into these sublime truths? Is it in order to trouble us, to alarm us, to ask the question, am I of the elect or not? Far be from us so unworthy a thought! God does not intend that we penetrate His secret counsels and eternal decrees. The purpose of our Savior is this: He has given to His elect a certain choice of means by which they approach eternal salvation. The first of these is that we unite ourselves to His prayer and say to Him: 'Deliver us from evil.' Then to pray with the Church: 'Permit us not to be separated from Thee; if our will would go astray, permit it not.' Jesus teaches us to abandon ourselves perfectly to His goodness, to work with our whole heart for our salvation, to give ourselves to Him entirely for time and for eternity.
687. Denz. nos. 805, 826.
688. See chap. 18.
689.  John 15:5.
690. 1 Cor. 4:7.
691. Rom. 8:17.