Devil’s Advocate

Using the Socratic Method, the Devil’s Advocate was the person who argued against the canonization of someone, preventing them from becoming a saint.

In the Catholic Church the “Advocatus Diaboli”, aka the “Devil’s Advocate”, was the person whose job it was to test the veracity of candidates for canonization. Created in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V, the official name of the job was the “Promoter of the Faith”. Essentially their job was to argue against sainthood and force their opponent, the “Promoter of Justice”, to bring a stronger case and better demonstrate the merits of a candidate.

The intention was that the Promoter of the Faith was to take a critical / skeptical approach to help weed out unworthy candidates for sainthood. The “Devil’s Advocate” lasted until 1983 when Pope John Paul II drastically changed the responsibilities of the Promoter of the Faith in the canonization process. Interestingly after this change the Church saw an explosion of new saints. Pope John Paul II canonized 482 people which is more saints than the previous 500 years of popes combined. Curiously nobody seems sure exactly how many saints there are but it’s frequently said to be around 11,000 and counting.

Created by Pope Sixtus V the role of the Devil’s Advocate was to use the Socratic Method and argue against sainthood for canonization candidates.

the Socratic Method

Having someone play the role of Devil’s advocate, someone who takes a counter position to help both sides better arrive at the truth, existed before the Catholic Church. The philosopher Socrates is credited with inventing (or at least popularizing) this method of debate in the 5th century BCE.

In the Socratic Method someone (the interlocutor) puts forth a claim/idea to which someone else (essentially the Devil’s Advocate) challenges this assertion through a series of questions. By questioning the premises of someone’s position the Socratic Method helps to bring out the inadequacies, limits, & faults in their logic. Like tempering steel in fire, should the the initial premise survive the debate it will be stronger than it started because the problems of its logic will be corrected. Through success or failure both sides learn from the process. The rigorous analysis of the Socratic Method brings both sides closer to the truth and potentially gives us only the best Catholic saints.

A nice crash-course of the Socratic Method.

Homer plays “Devil’s Advocate”.