One of the people I highly respect is Father Robert Barron. He produces videos on Catholicism that are faithful, informative and interesting. Fr. Barron has short, topical videos on his YouTube channel. He has also produced longer presentations for TV broadcast. In a few months, Fr. Barron will release the eagerly awaited Catholicism Project.
I have learned a lot from Fr. Barron and have always found his teaching to be rock-solid. I was shocked then, when I heard his comments on Is Hell Crowded or Empty?
The Church teaches that hell is real. It has never taught that any person in particular has ended-up there, even Judas (likely, but not certain). For that matter, the Church teaches that only a relatively few Saints in particular are known to be in heaven. Where everyone else, who ever lived, landed is not definitively taught, not in particular or (debatable) in general. We are free to have differing opinions on the general proportion of heaven vs. hell. Mine is opposite that of Fr. Barron.
This subject is visited quite often in Holy Scripture as well as in Sacred Tradition. While heaven is offered to all, many have rejected it by rejecting God. We do not know the relative proportion of those in hell vs. heaven, but I believe that most faithful Catholics would say hell is well populated.
It seems to me this is similar to the question of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary before 1950. In that year, Pope Pius XII infallibly defined this doctrine in Munificentissimus Deus. At that time, questions were being raised for this long-held Catholic belief backed by Sacred Tradition (but not Holy Scripture). The case for hell being far from empty seems even stronger, although not (yet) infallibly declared.
In his piece, Father Barron begins by mentioning Rob Bell, an Evangelical mega-church pastor who wrote Love Wins, a very non-evangelical view that presents a Universalist, “everyone is saved” position. Father compares this with Origen of Alexandria (around 200AD) who took a similar position (that was condemned by the Church).
Moving to modern times, Fr. Barron notes that 20th century Protestant theologian Karl Barth held views similar to Bell and Origen on this topic. Father did not agree with Barth, but agreed with his contemporary – Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who believed there is a reasonable hope that all people will be saved.
With all due respect to Balthasar and Fr. Barron, this is where I disagree. Certainly I share the hope that all people will accept the salvation paid for by Our Lord on Calvary. That they will be saved, almost all, the majority, a significant portion… I am sadly doubtful. It is obvious in today’s world how many people reject God. God, through His Son, has mercifully given us a chance for eternal life – not a guarantee (or near gaurantee).
Bell and Origen suggest heresy. Balthasar’s view misses that, but not by much.
If these few academics were correct, then heaven is ours regardless of what we do. We would be free to reject God’s will, ignore His Church, believe whatever we wish, live in sin or perhaps even worship Satan. While these things would affect our life here, we would still have a “reasonable hope of salvation.” That friends, is hogwash!
Part of the reason this alarms me is because I sense that this is exactly what many people believe. IF there is a God and IF heaven exists, since He is merciful I will be assured of my place there. In the mean time, there is no reason to order my life in any way other than that which pleases me the most. Only I am important. God’s will is irrevelant.
Father Barron himself points out how this view differs from Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Acquinas. Both of these Doctors of the Catholic Church believed that most people will be damned. Father also acknowledges the “dark view” of hell Jesus often spoke of, for example:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Clear enough to me! It was also clear enough to many Church Fathers revered for trustworthy teaching of the faith and who now pray for us in Heaven:
The greater part of men choose to be damned rather than to love Almighty God.
Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori (Doctor of the Church)
On the threshing floor, few are the grains carried into the barns, but high are the piles of chaff burned with fire.
Pope Saint Gregory the Great (Doctor of the Church)
It is certain that few are saved.
Saint Augustine (Doctor of the Church)
Out of one hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin until death, scarcely one will be saved.
Saint Jerome (Doctor of the Church)
What I am about to tell you is very terrible, yet I will not conceal it from you. Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants, not one hundred people will be saved. I even doubt whether there will be as many as that!
St. John Chrysostom (Doctor of the Church)
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.
also St. John Chrysostom (Doctor of the Church)
Christ’s flock is called “little” (Luke 12:32) in comparison with the greater number of the reprobates.
Saint Bede the Venerable (Doctor of the Church)
The greater part of men will set no value on the blood of Christ, and will go on offending Him.
Saint Isidore of Seville (Doctor of the Church)
(also my confirmation Saint)
How few the elect are may be understood from the multitude being cast out.
Saint Hilary of Pointiers (Doctor of the Church)
The majority of men shall not see God, excepting those who live justly, purified by righteousness and by every other virtue.
Saint Justin Martyr
There are a select few who are saved.
Saint Thomas Aquinas (Doctor of the Church)
The number of the elect is so small – so small – that, were we to know how small it is, we would faint away with grief: one here and there, scattered up and down the world!
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort
The Catechism also addresses this in some detail in paragraphs 1021 through 1060. For example:
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
Michael Voris at RealCatholicTV did an excellent piece on this topic entitled How Many Will be Saved?, from which the above Saint quotes were drawn. John Salza at Scripture Catholic also has a very good page on hell.
My opinion: hell is quite full, filling fast, but with plenty of space to accommodate everyone. Satan has a chair for each of us and hopes to fill it. Many seats will be claimed.