First, let us consider the nature of salvation itself. If we are saved, it is not by our merits but
rather it is a free gift of God. This means that we do not earn our salvation and that salvation is
not owed to us out of justice because salvation exceeds our nature. Likewise, anyone who is
saved and goes to heaven does so because God chose them and they are numbered among
the elect. This is the mystery of predestination.
As Catholics, we do not believe in double predestination which holds that God predestines the
souls that are saved and the souls that are damned. The paradox of salvation and damnation is
that if we are saved, it is because of God, and if we are damned, it is by our own fault.
The weakness of our human nature is that we cannot perceive things from multiple vantage
points simultaneously. For example, I can stand on a mountain and look down at the city
below, or I can be in the city on a street and look up at the mountain. I have to choose which
vantage point to take.
In this way, the Scripture often fluctuates between two vantage points. There is God, his grace,
his predestination, election, and divine assistance, and then there is the human perspective,
our free will, our culpability, our liberty to choose between good and evil.
From the vantage point of God, everything flows from his providence and nothing happens
without his active or permissive will. This is why the Old Testament often speaks of all things as
if they are caused directly by God himself. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans often takes this
vantage point as well.
But contained within scripture is also the vantage point of human beings. We hold that we truly
have a free will and are responsible for the actions we take, the good and the bad. When we do
good, we merit a reward, and when we do evil we merit punishment.
This paradox cannot be reconciled, it must be accepted by faith.
The question then becomes, from the vantage point of God, does God call some to salvation
who are not members of the visible Church. This most certainly seems to be the case, for in the
Old Testament and in the New Covenant, God often uses instruments that are outside of the
established patterns for his purposes and he seems to form in the them an authentic sanctity.
In the history of the world, Socrates stands out in particular as perhaps a man given salvation
despite not being a member of the chosen race. He himself felt that his philosophy came not
from himself, but a higher power. He sensed a kind of illumination which suggests perhaps a
working of grace in his life. We cannot say for certain, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to
suggest that God brought to him a kind of partial revelation which did in fact pave the way for
But such men and women are rare in history.
From the vantage point of human free will, St. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans that
there are some gentiles who do not have the law or circumcision but follow the demands of the
law. He explains, that they discover the law within by use of their conscience, and thus we can
say that the law is accessible to all men and all are given sufficient grace for salvation.
In my life, I have not encountered such people or if I have they are statistically rare. Most
people I encounter fall significantly short of the demands of God’s law and are in real danger of
eternal damnation, at least as far as I can perceive by what they say and do.
We can speak of the ordinary means of salvation and the extraordinary means. The ordinary
means are the life of the sacraments, which are the surest and safest guides towards our
heavenly homeland. Even when Christians make use of the ordinary means of salvation, still
many fall far short of the holiness to which we are called. For most, this life is a constant battle
with mortal sin, and our confidence is not in ourselves but in God’s mercy.
We do not presume salvation for anyone because we know that God’s grace will not impose
itself on an unrepentant heart.
But yet, we can pray and hope that despite all outward appearances, still in a mysterious way
the grace of conversion was given to even the most obstinate of sinners in the moments before
they died. Even then, we recognize that justice awaits such a soul in the purifying fires of
purgatory. Yes, they might be saved, but no crime against the divine will goes unpunished.
They might have been spared the eternal punishments due to sin, but they will still, out of
justice, suffer the temporal punishments that remain for purgatory.
When we see someone sin, we ought to call them to conversion. We should pray with the belief
that God can do all things and that conversion is primarily about his election, but we also ought
to work as if even the smallest encounters is the possibility for someone to hear the Gospel
and accept Christ.
Will many be saved or few? It is difficult to say. When I see the outward actions of my fellow
humans, it seems as though few seek God and even fewer fulfill the laws that he has
established. Is there the possibility that despite such weakness that many of these same
people could be saved? Perhaps, but our Lord himself says the way is narrow that leads to
salvation and the way is broad that leads to hell.
I hold this to effective in good living that I should look upon everyone I meet and talk to them
as though God is calling them to salvation. I should love all of them and desire what is best,
and so I should gently and patiently seek to bring all people to Jesus Christ and his Church. I
should also remember that I do not see as God sees, and I should not be so proud as to
account all men as evil and myself as good. Rather, I should account myself as evil but
redeemed and desire the same for all others.
It would even be to my advantage to consider that most are better than myself and any
goodness I have is because God has looked on me with mercy. While at this moment I may not
be in mortal sin, yet if it were not for God, not only would I commit mortal sins, but perhaps I
would commit worse sins than the ones I despise in others. Thus, I account myself lower than
all men by nature, and yet holy and free on account of God’s mercy. Perhaps I realize that I do
not sin like others, but I do not attribute it to my merits and efforts. Instead, I see it as a gift that
I did not earn and that I often don’t use to it’s full effect.
So, I preach conversion because I desire all to be saved, but not because I hold myself to be