The Devil’s Advocate

The definition of a devil’s advocate is “a person who champions the less accepted cause for the sake of argument”.  This function was established by the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 by Sixtus V and involved a Roman Catholic official whose duty was to make arguments opposing an individual being recognized as a saint by the Church.  The purpose was to ensure the candidates for sainthood were truly deserving.

The importance of such a process is illustrated by the fact that when Pope John Paul II reduced the power of this office in 1983 it enabled him to canonize around 500 individuals as compared to only 98 canonizations by all the 20th century popes combined.  If one does not need to deal with contradictory information, one can do whatever one likes.

Having to deal with contradictory information concerning our Christian beliefs is troubling.  Having to critically examine the evidence for our beliefs is problematic. The easy way to avoid all these problems is just to ignore the evidence that contradicts our position.  As Christians this is easy to do because we can justify problems with our belief system by saying God’s ways are incomprehensible to us finite creatures and therefore we must believe even if it does not make sense to us.

However, God has not structured our existence like some Alice in Wonderland world in which we must believe in a half a dozen impossible things before breakfast [1] if we want to be saved.  God made us rational beings and we should use that facility to ensure our beliefs conform to what the Bible teaches, not to what traditional Christianity teaches.  The function of a devil’s advocate still has its place in our Christian culture.


[1]   Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, Mahwah, NJ:  Watermill Press, 1983, p. 187.

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