I will conclude the discussion on the evidence for implicit faith from Scripture with a consideration of the relationship between those before Christ, and those after Christ.
Before the coming of Christ, men were able to be justified by making an act of perfect love of God, through the grace of God. As the council of Trent states, this kind of perfect act of love of God reconciles one with God, bestowing sanctifying grace upon the one making it. Not all of the men before Christ had an explicit knowledge of Him; in fact, very few of them did. Their justification came about through an implicit faith in Christ, which was included in their act of love of God, in the sense that no one can truly love God without being willing to accept everything that he chooses to reveal to them.
After the coming of Christ, how does it come about that one cannot be justified without explicit faith in Him? We know that if someone has a perfect act of love of God, his sins are forgiven him, and he is made a child of God. Therefore, on the supposition that explicit faith in Christ is needed for justification, nobody in the world after the coming of Christ is able to make an act of perfect love of God without an explicit knowledge of Christ.
So, we have two alternatives.
1) We could say that all those just pagans who formerly were able to love God cannot elicit a perfect act of love for Him anymore. God withholds that grace from them. Why? Because now that His son has been crucified for THEM, they have to explicitly believe in Him, even if they have the misfortune of living and dying without ever hearing of the Gospel. Tough luck. Hmmm. I think you can judge for yourselves whether this position is consistent with the crucifixion as the greatest manifestation of God's love for us.
2) Alternatively, we could say that all these pagans or Jews CAN make an act of perfect love of God still, but an explicit revelation of Christ comes along with it. This seems to be extremely unlikely, because we just don't see this happening. In fact, it is even excluded by the New testament narrative, as I will make clear.
Just in case this isn't convincing enough, let's talk about the time at which all are bound to have explicit faith in Christ, still proceeding under this supposition.
First let us suppose that there was a definitive moment at which all men, without exception, are bound to have explicit faith in Christ for justification. Okay. What happens to all those men, both Jews and Gentiles, who right up until that moment had perfect love of God? On the supposition that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for justification, we again have two options.
1) All these men who are in the state of justification without explicit faith in Christ spontaneously commit mortal sins, and turn away from God.
2) All these men who are in the state of justification without explicit faith in Christ spontaneously have a Divine revelation of Christ, and thus are able to remain in their state of justification.
Number 1 is definitely a no no. Number 2 is contradicted in the New Testament by the example of Cornelius, who was a faithful Jew who was acceptable in God's eyes. It is true that he had a revelation by an angel, but it was not a sudden revelation of Christ, rather the angel was instructing him to send for Peter, who then instructed Cornelius in the faith and baptized him. Hence we must say that Cornelius, who was “acceptable to God”, and a just man, was already justified and in the state of sanctifying grace by his love of God and implicit faith in Christ. Later, still in the state of justification God brought him to an explicit knowledge of Christ.
Hence, this position would be consistent with the position of some theologians that implicit faith is sufficient for justification, but God always grants such people an explicit knowledge of Christ before they die. However, one must hold even here that IF God were to allow such people to die before coming to an explicit knowledge of Christ, they would be saved. It is clearly and constantly taught by the Church that if a man dies after being justified, he is saved.
Now, we could get around some of these difficulties by saying that the necessity of explicit faith in Christ did not bind all men all at once, but only those are heard the preaching of the apostles. Under this account, those who died before having a chance to hear the Gospel could still be saved by implicit faith in Christ. This seems consistent with the statement of Lumen Gentium, that, “In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. ”
If we do say this, then it is clear that the necessity of explicit faith for justification does not bind those who do not know of the Church, and not through their own fault.
In conclusion of our examination of the Scriptures, let us restate our major conclusions:
1. The Holy Scripture affirms the necessity of salvation through Christ.
2. Nevertheless, it also seems to hold out the possibility of salvation for those who do not know Christ, and not through their own fault.
3. This is abundantly confirmed by a consideration of the change in situation of the men before Christ, and those after.