Today, when someone talks about a devil’s advocate, they probably think of someone taking an alternative position from the norm, or one they don’t personally agree with, for the sake of the argument. Or, they think of the hit 1997 movie “The Devil’s Advocate” starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. Most don’t know the real history of the phrase and how it had its beginnings in the Catholic Church. What really is the Devil’s Advocate?

For a potential candidate to be canonized as a saint within the Catholic Church, there is a rigorous formal canonization process. In this process, two parties take sides to argue for and against a candidate. Historically, the Promotor Fidei, Latin for Promoter of the Faith, was a canon lawyer appointed by the Holy See to argue against a candidate’s canonization. The popular nickname for the appointee was Advocatus Diaboli, Latin for Devil’s Advocate. This person would take a skeptical position of the person’s character, argue any miracles attributed to them were fraudulent, and look for gaps in evidence. The Devil’s Advocate opposed the Advocatus Dei, Latin for God’s Advocate, another canon lawyer who would argue in favor of canonization.

The earliest mention of anyone carrying out the task of arguing against a candidate is found in the canonization of Saint Lawrence Justinian, during the papacy of Pope Leo X. The Devil’s Advocate proper was formally established as an officer by Pope Sixtus V the year 1587 as part of the change to deal juridically with beatification and canonization.

Today, the role of the Devil’s Advocate is far diminished within the Church. Pope Saint John Paul II reduced the power and changed the responsibilities of the office in 1983. This change helped usher in 500 new saints and 1300 new beatifications. As a comparison, all of his 20th-century predecessors had only a total of 98 canonizations. However, they still may seek counsel in the event of a controversy, most recently Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee who testified as the Devil’s Advocate in the case of the canonization of Mother Teresa.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. st joachim and st anne and mama mary and st joseph thanks in advance for healing my daughter and grandson and for all the blessings .. we receive and will b receivng. st anne please help mmy gandson become the young man god wants him to become, .let him find employment that is a blessing to him and give him the protection and guidance he needs, he is young in mind and needs your continued guidance, i know my prayers will b answered in jesus name amen amen and ammen, lord i trust in u, increase my faith’

  2. Whom becomes a saint? Devil’s advocate seems reasonable yet whoo to whom would have such a task.
    Perhaps a difficult pregnancy through the mothers prayers brings a healthy child. All those who pray on her request. This is faith Alleluia

  3. In todays society it is important that as a Catholic we are able to defend our Faith, Our Values, and the Unborn. It is important to learn how to make comments, and be the “Devil’s Advocate” with Love to All.
    Appreciate this article, and pray that we can get into how to accomplish being the Devil’s Advocate with Love to All!

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