In the 18th century, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, an Italian Franciscan friar, preacher, and theologian, delivered a sermon titled “The Little Number of Souls Who Are Saved” (video). Saint Leonard’s sermon had a profound historical impact, leading to the conversion of many sinners during his time. Today, its influence continues as contemporary readers grapple with the same timeless questions about salvation and eternal life. The sermon’s unapologetic honesty challenges prevailing narratives of universal salvation, encouraging introspection and a renewed commitment to faith.
Saint Leonard’s sermon revolves around the biblical verse from Matthew 7:14, where a “narrow gate” and a “straight way” to life are described, with the unsettling assertion that “few there be that find it.” This thought-provoking verse serves as a launching point for a meditation on the destiny of souls and the challenges of navigating the path to salvation. The idea that salvation is not easily obtained and that individuals must strive diligently to secure their place in the afterlife is an especially distressing thought for anyone.
The sermon is filled with candid and sometimes unsettling declarations. For example, Saint Leonard asserts that at the end of his life, St. Jerome said to his disciples, “Out of one hundred thousand people whose lives have always been bad, you will find barely one who is worthy of indulgence.” In another part of the sermon, he writes how Saint Chrysostom once exclaimed with tears in his eyes, “I do not believe that many priests are saved; I believe the contrary, that the number of those who are damned is greater.” Moreover, one of the most disturbing details in St. Leonard’s sermon recounts how both St. Vincent Ferrar and St. Bernard died within an hour of each other. St. Vincent Ferrar later appeared to his bishop and made the following eerie declaration: “Know, Monsignor, that at the very hour I passed away, thirty-three thousand people also died. Out of this number, Bernard and I went up to heaven without delay, three went to purgatory, and all the others fell into Hell.”
While the tone of Saint Leonard’s sermon may be unsettling to some, it serves as a call to introspection and a reminder of the transient nature of human existence. Saint Leonard’s intent is to encourage his audience to take their spiritual journeys seriously, acknowledging the challenges and uncertainties they may face along the way.