How many here are familiar with the ‘agrapha,’ unwritten sayings of Jesus not recorded in the Gospels but which were passed down as part of the oral tradition, until referred too (often in passing) by Church Fathers in their writings?
What is your view of their ‘authority’? These logia are not in the Bible but unlike false apocryphal gospels, these are sayings attributed to Jesus by recognized, orthodox sources. Even some of the false gospels, according to some Fathers, contain corrupted germs of true traditions. Origen notes that in amidst the “mud” of these texts, kernels of truth can be uncovered. If so for these unreliable texts, what of orthodox ones?
The earliest ‘agraphon’ is of course the one in Acts 20:35, “Remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive.”
Luke decided, for whatever reason, not to include this saying in his Gospel. Naturally, this one is part of the New Testament. What of the others outside Holy Scripture? Should we see them as forming part, if we can be reasonably sure that they are likely authentic, of Sacred Tradition?
The canonical Gospels admit themselves that they do not include everything that Jesus said:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe to that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30,31).
John finished his gospel by saying.
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).
What I find interesting, is that many of these ‘agrapha’ from orthodox sources correlate with teachings taught by many of our canonized mystics and holy doctors.
Consider this well-known agraphon which is referred to in numerous orthodox sources (the Apostolic and Church Fathers):
"…For the Lord Himself, being asked by a certain person when his kingdom would come, said, “When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female, neither male or female”. Now the two are one, when we speak truth among ourselves, and in two bodies there shall be one soul without dissimulation. And by the outside as the inside He meaneth this: by the inside he meaneth the soul and by the outside the body. Therefore in like manner as they body appeareth, so also let thy soul be manifest by its good works. And by the male with the female, neither male nor female, he meaneth this; that a brother seeing a sister should have no thought of her as a female, and that a sister seeing a brother should not have any thought of him as a male. “These things if ye do, saith He, the kingdom of my father shall come.”
- Second Epistle of Clement 12:2-6
2 Clement is one of the ‘apostolic fathers’ and is therefore one of the earliest non-canonical orthodox writings of the Church:
The Second Epistle of Clement (Ancient Greek: Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους Klēmentos pros Korinthious “Clement to Corinthians”) often referred to as 2 Clement or Second Clement, is an early Christian writing. 2 Clement was not accepted in the canonical New Testament, but was included in the Apostolic Fathers collection…
This same saying can be found in a multitude of other early orthodox sources, for instance St. Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, 3.92.2:
“…When Salome asked when she would know the answer to her questions, the Lord said, When you trample on the robe of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female, and there is neither male nor female…”
- St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13.92-93
In the Acts of Peter (the earliest of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, composed in the second century), from which we derive the popular tradition that St. Peter was crucified upside-down, this same agraphon is rendered slightly differently. Just when Peter is about to be crucified, he states:
“Concerning this the master says in a mystery, 'If you do not make what is on the right like what is on the left and what is on the left like what is on the right, and what is above like what is below, and what is behind like what is before, you will not recognize the kingdom.’” (Martyrdom of Peter 9)
And in the Acts of Philip, a later apocryphal Acts of the Apostles work:
“For the Lord said to me: Except ye make the lower into the upper and the left into the right, ye shall not enter into my kingdom.”
***- Acta Philippi, 34 ***
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to another agraphon quoted frequently by the Fathers, including Origen, in one of his homilies for Pentecost:
“…A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his Homilies on Jeremiah, cites a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which reads: "Whoever is near to me, is near to the fire” (Homily on Jeremiah, L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit blazes but does not burn. And nevertheless it enacts a transformation, and thus must also consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbour…"
- HOLY MASS ON THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI, St Peter’s Basilica (Sunday, 23 May 2010)
How should we approach such sayings?