devil’s advocate

When someone likes to argue for argument’s sake, or be deliberately provocative, we call them a devil’s advocate. This is often encouraged as a “troubleshooting” method in trendy corporate jargon, but has its origins in 16th Century Catholicism. Pope Sixtus V (who narrowly pipped Fivetus VI to the post), after some pontification, established a process for vetting potential saints, whereby a canon lawyer would be appointed to dig the dirt on proposed saints, and put the case for why they should be excluded from the holy ranks. The devil’s advocate was also known as the Promoter of the Faith. He (because yes, it would have been a he) would be opposed by God’s advocate, or the Promoter of the Cause who would argue how very saintly indeed their nominee was.

Although, if it’s true that the devil has all the best lawyers, then perhaps the process was flawed.

In 1982 Pope John Paul II grew tired of this process, and abolished it, instigating a “the more the merrier” period of holiness, with 1300 beatifications and 500 canonisations taking place during his papacy – compared to the meagre 82 who made the cut between 1900 and 1982.

So sadly, you can no longer aspire to be a devil’s advocate. Unless you’re Al Pacino.


Leave a Reply