A few years ago I wrote several parts of a five-part play  called Sagecraft. In the play, a party of six young people from a city called Delphi, each with their own unique personalities and backgrounds (explored in the first half of the first play), join together in an adventuring party of sorts under the command of an ambitious half-blood sage in search of lost books of knowledge. Perhaps only someone like myself would write a work where a young man travels all around the world in search of books, considering my own well-known bibliophile tendencies  and my love of obscure, massive, and long-forgotten volumes .
What does it mean to be a sage, though? In one sense, a sage is a wise person (something I would like to be, and be seen as), but there is something deeper about the subject than that. Having already discussed some of the “magic” of words elsewhere  I would like to discuss in this particular post what it means to be a sage, and the sort of language is used in different religious traditions to refer to such a person, in the hopes that we may be more careful than is often the case about the sort of way we treat those who handle sacred texts.
In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, which is a fairly accurate work in its portrayal of the wide variety of heathen religious beliefs, magic incantations, and magical reasoning for the suitably adventurous role-playing game fan, the sage is one of the “prestige classes” that characters can be. In this game, a sage is considered an expert at any spell that can be found in a book. A sage is a voracious reader of ancient and obscure books in search of the power that can be found in words, words that can be used to spur and influence actions. One need not be a neo-pagan or an enthusiast of heathen faiths to understand the appeal of the power of books to a certain type of person (of whom I am one).
Nor is the character of a sage limited to heathen faiths, though the druids of Celtic Europe were also sages given their power over words. Incidentally enough, Catholic priests in the Middle Ages who spoke in Latin and had the ‘power’ of magic to speak incantations like the Mass, transfirguring ordinary bread into the very body of Christ, and ordinary wine into the very blood of Christ, all in an incomprehensible tongue, were also sages. Islam has its sages as well (called Mujtaheed), who have the power to interpret Sharia law and the hadiths (sayings) of early Muslims for followers of Islam to follow. By choosing your ‘sage’ you choose your own path of Islam. Much the same is true in Judaism, by following a particular rabbi’s reasoning in the Talmud, or a particular mystic sage of kabbalah.
All of these traditions of ‘sages’ spring from a belief that there is some sort of mystic and hidden knowledge that only a few people obtain. In order to preserve a strict and rigid hierarchy it is necessary to posit some sort of gnostic belief in esoteric texts that are beyond the capability of the ordinary believer to interpret, leading to the training of a small elite who alone has the power and the authority to work with the sacred texts and to explain the obligations of the faith to ordinary believers who are not competent to handle those secret teachings for themselves. A believer’s competence extends merely to choosing the right sage to follow and to obey the commands of the sage (or his successors) without understanding and without comment or critique.
What are the problems with outsourcing sagecraft? For one, a sage has no accountability. So long as a sage (or rabbi or teacher or pastor or imam) has a following, they can preach what they like and hope for enough people to support them to allow them to live the sort of life they wish. There is no qualification for being a sage other than someone willing to consider your opinions to be wisdom–and that kind of power and influence is hard for many people to resist. Since a sage has unquestioned authority to interpret scriptures, the scriptures by whom one is supposedly accountable to, there is no one that has the standing in the eyes of the sage to hold the sage accountable to that standard when the actions of the sage and the teachings of the sacred text appear to be in conflict.
Another, more insidious problem with outsourcing sagecraft, though, is the fact that it inhibits the ability of a believer to develop their own skills at interpreting the foundation of their beliefs. So long as the foundation of someone’s beliefs is the teachings of a man, that person is guilty of idolatry, no matter the identity of the man. It is only by basing one’s beliefs on the Word of God (the whole word), and by being obedient to its commands rather than seeking to be the master interpreter of it, that one can even have a hope of being accurate. To do this requires the help of God, for there are too many ways to go wrong for human effort and blind chance unaided by divine providence to succeed at obeying God properly in even modest fashion.
Therefore, if we all seek to develop our incredible human potential as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God, we must all cast off the shackles of authoritarian leaders who have adopted the tyrannical government of Satan, and we must accept the personal responsibility for seeking the truth of God and applying it to ourselves. It is only by accepting that responsibility and applying God’s law to ourselves that we will, gradually and with after struggle, begin to develop within ourselves the righteous character of God. To do so, though, requires that we reject sages who pretend to offer to their followers the whole knowledge when they only have their own partial understanding and misunderstanding to provide to others. For we all are called to be sages, and to put in the work of studying and understanding the Word of God so that we may be equipped to be judges, and not merely followers . Are we ready to handle the challenges and responsibility of mastering sagecraft ourselves?