It is an awful but undeniable truth that the holiest and greatest of Christian writers have taught that the majority of mankind would be lost. I doubt that there is a single Father or doctor of the Church who has raised the question and who has not answered it in that sense. Here are just a few examples that I have to hand from the saints. St Athanasius:-
What reasonable man would not prefer to be among this minority that enters through this narrow way into eternal life, rather than be of the majority which rushes to hurl itself along the broad way that leads to death?
St Thomas Aquinas:-
It is a minority who are saved.
St Robert Bellarmine:-
The majority of mankind will be shut out from eternal light and consigned to darkness for not having followed the light of reason.
Blessed John Henry Newman:-
The elect are fewer than the reprobate and hard to find amid the chaff.
It is impossible to consider steadily the damnation of even one soul; what then of the prospect that these words set before us? I don’t want now to argue in favour of this position, but simply to examine one argument against it that naturally comes to mind but which is, I believe, faulty.
One naturally thinks that if a teacher sets a test that the majority of his pupils fail each year, then either the test is too hard, or else the teacher is either incompetent or cruel.
In fact, even this is not always true. There are some exams which are designed to be failed by most people, because many people will be attracted to them, but it is necessary that only excellent candidates pass: for example (I imagine) getting in the SAS.
Still, it is true in general that most exams are designed to be passed by most people, though for only a few to pass them with flying colours. This is what is most useful for society, since people in general are attracted to those activities at which they will be most competent, and if they were not permitted to pursue them, having failed their probation, they would end up doing something for which they were less suited, to the harm of society.
But our probation is not of this kind. The question of usefulness cannot arise, either in the first way or the second, since the One who has put us into the world has no needs.
Again, in mundane examinations, the excellence that needs to be attained in order to pass is only contingently, not necessarily and intrinsically, related to the goal at which we aim. For example, how much anatomy must I know in order to receive my licence to practice as a surgeon? The answer to this question is not an eternal truth; it depends on the choice of human examiners, and can vary from one time and place to another.
In the great Probation, however, the excellence that needs to be attained is intrinsically and necessarily related to the goal. It is an eternal truth that to prefer God’s will to my will is the way to attain beatitude. Not even God Himself can lower the entrance requirement to heaven.