(Epistle of Pope St. Clement to the Corinthians) “Wherefore let us forsake idle and vain thoughts; and let us conform to the glorious and venerable rule which hath been handed down to us; and let us see what is good and what is pleasant and what is acceptable in the sight of Him that made us. Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ and understand how precious it is unto His Father, because being shed for our salvation it won for the whole world the grace of repentance. Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn how from generation to generation the Master hath given a place for repentance unto them that desire to turn to Him. Noah preached repentance, and they that obeyed were saved. Jonah preached destruction unto the men of Nineveh; but they, repenting of their sins, obtained pardon of God by their supplications and received salvation, albeit they were aliens from God. The ministers of the grace of God through the Holy Spirit spake concerning repentance. Yea and the Master of the universe Himself spake concerning repentance with an oath: for, as I live saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, so much as his repentance . . . Seeing then that He desireth all His beloved to be partakers of repentance, He confirmed it by an act of His almighty will. Wherefore let us be obedient unto His excellent and glorious will; and presenting ourselves as suppliants of His mercy and goodness, let us fall down before Him and betake ourselves unto His compassions, forsaking the vain toil and the strife and the jealousy which leadeth unto death. Let us fix our eyes on them that ministered perfectly unto His excellent glory. Let us set before us Enoch, who being found righteous in obedience was translated, and his death was not found. Noah, being found faithful, by his ministration preached regeneration unto the world, and through him the Master saved the living creatures that entered into the ark in concord. Abraham, who was called the ‘friend,’ was found faithful in that he rendered obedience unto the words of God . . . And again He saith; God led Abraham forth and said unto him, Look up unto the heaven and count the stars, and see whether thou canst number them. So shall thy seed be. And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. For his faith and hospitality a son was given unto him in old age, and by obedience he offered him a sacrifice unto God on one of the mountains which He showed him . . . For her faith and hospitality Rahab the harlot was saved . . . and moreover they gave her a sign, that she should hang out from her house a scarlet thread, thereby showing beforehand that through the blood of the Lord there shall be redemption unto all them that believe and hope on God. Ye see, dearly beloved, not only faith, but prophecy, is found in the woman . . . for thus He spake Have mercy, that ye may receive mercy: forgive, that it may be forgiven to you. As ye do, so shall it be done to you. As ye give, so shall it be given unto you. As ye judge, so shall ye be judged. As ye show kindness, so shall kindness be showed unto you. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured withal to you. With this commandment and these precepts let us confirm ourselves, that we may walk in obedience to His hallowed words, with lowliness of mind. For the holy word saith, Upon whom shall I look, save upon him that is gentle and quiet and feareth Mine oracles? Therefore it is right and proper, brethren, that we should be obedient unto God, rather than follow those who in arrogance and unruliness have set themselves up as leaders in abominable jealousy.”
From this text alone we can gather several things: First, the grace of salvation has been made available to the whole world through the death of Christ. Pope Clement proves this universal availability of salvation by giving numerous examples of those who before Christ were able to be saved through their faith in God. There is not the slightest evidence here that he would limit this justification after Christ to those who explicitly know Christ. The contrary conclusion would seem to be the case, since even now men who do not know Christ, but have faith in God and turn to Him fall completely within the description of the justified men that Pope Clement lays out.
Let us look further on in the same epistle:
“Let them learn how lowliness of mind prevaileth with God, what power chaste love hath with God, how the fear of Him is good and great and saveth all them that walk therein in a pure mind with holiness. For He is the searcher out of the intents and desires; whose breath is in us, and when He listeth, He shall take it away. Now all these things the faith which is in Christ confirmeth: for He Himself through the Holy Spirit thus invite thus: Come, my children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life and loveth to see good days? Make thy tongue to cease from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn aside from evil and do good. Seek peace and ensue it. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are turned to their prayers. But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil, to destroy their memorial from the earth. The righteous cried out, and the Lord heard him, and delivered him from all his troubles. Many are the troubles of the righteous, and the Lord shall deliver him from them all. And again Many are the stripes of the sinner, but them that set their hope on the Lord mercy shall compass about. The Father, who is pitiful in all things, and ready to do good, hath compassion on them that fear Him, and kindly and lovingly bestoweth His favors on them that draw nigh unto Him with a single mind. Let us therefore cleave unto His blessing, and let us see what are the ways of blessing. Let us study the records of the things that have happened from the beginning. Wherefore was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac with confidence, as knowing the future, was led a willing sacrifice. Jacob with humility departed from his land because of his brother, and went unto Laban and served; and the twelve tribes of Israel were given unto him. If any man will consider them one by one in sincerity, he shall understand the magnificence of the gifts that are given by Him. For of Jacob are all the priests and levites who minister unto the altar of God; of him is the Lord Jesus as concerning the flesh; of him are kings and rulers and governors in the line of Judah; yea and the rest of his tribes are held in no small honor, seeing that God promised saying, Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven. They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Here Pope St. Clement clearly says that faith in Christ “confirms” lowliness of mind, chaste love, fear of God, and walking in a pure mind with holiness. He does NOT say that these things cannot be had without an explicit faith in Christ. In fact, it is evident that this is excluded, since he again goes on to consider as examples of these kind of men those who lived before Christ. He concludes with the universal statement that God justifies all men by faith, and has done so since the beginning. Again, there is no evidence here that God has somehow changed his means of justification. Men are justified by one and the same thing in all ages, faith, whether this is implicit or explicit.
Further in the epistle Pope Clement writes:
“Who can declare the bond of the love of God? Who is sufficient to tell the majesty of its beauty? The height, where unto love exalteth, is unspeakable. Love joineth us unto God; love covereth a multitude of sins; love endureth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing coarse, nothing arrogant in love. Love hath no divisions, love maketh no seditions, love doeth all things in concord. In love were all the elect of God made perfect; without love nothing is well pleasing to God: in love the Master took us unto Himself; for the love which He had toward us, Jesus Christ our Lord hath given His blood for us by the will of God, and His flesh for our flesh and His life for our lives. Ye see, dearly beloved, how great and marvelous a thing is love, and there is no declaring its perfection. Who is sufficient to be found therein, save those to whom God shall vouchsafe it? Let us therefore entreat and ask of His mercy, that we may be found blameless in love, standing apart from the factiousness of men. All the generations from Adam unto this day have passed away: but they that by God’s grace were perfected in love dwell in the abode of the pious; and they shall be made manifest in the visitation of the Kingdom of God . . . who therefore is noble among you? Who is compassionate? Who is fulfilled with love? Let him say; If by reason of me there be faction and strife and divisions, I retire, I depart, whither ye will, and I do that which is ordered by the people: only let the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters. He that shall have done this, shall win for himself great renown in Christ, and every place will receive him: for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Thus have they done and will do, that live as citizens of that kingdom of God which bringeth no regrets. But, to bring forward examples of Gentiles also; many kings and rulers, when some season of pestilence pressed upon them, being taught by oracles have delivered themselves over to death, that they might rescue their fellow citizens through their own blood. Many have retired from their own cities, that they might have no more seditions. We know that many among ourselves have delivered themselves to bondage, that they might ransom others. Many have sold themselves to slavery, and receiving the price paid for themselves have fed others. Many women being strengthened through the grace of God have performed many manly deeds. The blessed Judith, when the city was beleaguered, asked of the elders that she might be suffered to go forth into the camp of the aliens. So she exposed herself to peril and went forth for love of her country and of her people which were beleaguered; and the Lord delivered Holophernes into the hand of a woman. To no less peril did Esther also, who was perfect in faith, expose herself, that she might deliver the twelve tribes of Israel, when they were on the point to perish. For through her fasting and her humiliation she entreated the all seeing Master, the God of the ages; and He, seeing the humility of her soul, delivered the people for whose sake she encountered the peril.”
Pope St. Clement speaks of love as uniting us to God. Who is sufficient to have love? Only those to whom God gives it, by His grace: “All the generations from Adam unto this day have passed away. But they that by God’s grace were perfected in love dwell in the abode of the pious; and they shall be made manifest in the visitation of the Kingdom of God.” All those whom by God's grace were given love are saved. What reasonable basis could one have for saying that a gentile who knows God and serves Him, is unable to love him without an explicit knowledge of Christ? Pope Clement goes on to describe those who love God as those who do whatever is necessary for the peace of their fellow men, and gives examples of Gentiles who have done so.
(Origen: Contra Celsus) “And yet, after making such a statement, he raises a new objection, saying: After so long a period of time, then, did God now bethink himself of making men live righteous lives, but neglect to do so before? To which we answer, that there never was a time when God did not wish to make men live righteous lives; but He continually evinced His care for the improvement of the rational animal, by affording him occasions for the exercise of virtue. For in every generation the wisdom of God, passing into those souls which it ascertains to be holy, converts them into friends and prophets of God. And there may be found in the sacred book (the names of) those who in each generation were holy, and were recipients of the Divine Spirit, and who strove to convert their contemporaries so far as in their power.”
Origen is answering Celsus, who asks how is was possible for men to be saved before Christ, since all salvation is through Christ. Origen's response is to say that God's wisdom passes into those souls that are holy in every generation, and makes them into friends of God. This is similar to what we have seen above. Those men who follow the natural law written on their hearts, are given the grace to love God, and are made friends of God by that love.
Origen also has an interesting passage on pagan sacrifices, commenting on how God was present in Balaam's sacrifices.
(Homily on Numbers 16) "The thing indeed was done with profane sacrifices, and required a divination with magic art, nevertheless, God, willing for grace to abound where sin superabounded, deigned to be present, nor did He flee away from those who did not act according to the Israelite instruction, but according to the error of the gentiles. He was not present in the sacrifices, but in the one coming to meet Him, and there he gives His word."
Here he implies that God will be present even to pagans offering profane sacrifices, insofar as the pagan runs to, or meets God. Later we shall see that John Paul II made a statement almost identical to this one, concerning the salvation of those who seek God with a sincere heart in their religion. Such men can be saved in their religion, though not by it.