First recorded during the canonisation of Saint Lawrence Justinian under Pope Leo X (1513-1521), the Devil’s Advocate (Advocatus Diaboli) used to be an official position within the Roman Catholic Church, whose job was to uncover character flaws, misrepresentation of evidence or fraudulent behaviour.
During the canonisation process, the Promoter of the Faith (Promotor Fidei), better known as the Devil’s advocate (Advocatus Diaboli), was a lawyer appointed by Church authorities to to take a sceptical view of the proposed candidate. Meanwhile, an opposing case would be made by the Promoter of the Cause, also known as God’s advocate (Advocatus Dei), who would argue in favour of canonisation.
These specific positions of office are now obsolete and both functions are now performed by the Promoter of Justice (Promotor Justitiae) but, where the candidate might prove controversial, informal testimony may still be sought from those opposed to the canonisation.
However, the Devil’s Advocate has now entered into common parlance and is used to refer to someone who takes a contrary position in an argument or discussion, in order to encourage further consideration and debate about the topic’s potential ramifications.