Diego Lafuente’s personal blog

January 23, 2006

The Devil's Advocate

Absolutely every person I know who watches or used to watch television would say to me: don't take away my Discovery Channel. I was extremely addicted to this channel until I stopped having a television in my room (a bad thing) and cable television (another bad thing). The other day I reflected on the importance that Wikipedia is taking on in my life. There is no moment of the day that I don't end up on it. Wikipedia is like Discovery Channel for me, but on the web.

The Devil's Advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli) or Promoter of the Faith (Latin: Promotor Fidei) is the popular term for the Promoter of Justice in the canonization processes of the Catholic Church. The office of this lawyer, usually a cleric with a doctorate in canon law, was to object, demand evidence and uncover errors in all the documentation submitted to demonstrate the merits of the alleged candidate for beatification or canonization as a saint. Although his role made him appear figuratively aligned with those opposed to the candidate (hence the nickname "devil's advocate" for this "defender of the other side"), he was actually responsible for defending the authenticity of the virtues of the one who would be proposed as a model to be imitated by the Christian people.

This office was established in 1587 and abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The streamlining of the process allowed him to carry out nearly 500 canonizations and more than 1,300 beatifications, compared to the 98 canonizations of his predecessors in the 20th century.

The term devil's advocate is applied by extension to people who defend a position in which they do not necessarily believe, or to present a counterargument to a position in which they do believe in another debate. This process allows the quality of the original argument to be checked and the weaknesses of its defense to be identified.

But what does the phrase "devil's advocate" have to do with Wikipedia? Simply put, thinking about it made me curious about the term. I thought I wouldn't find the origin of this famous phrase, and there it is.