The general promoter of the faith (formerly and popularly called the devil's advocate) is that official of the Congregation of rites whose duties consist in safeguarding the rights of the faith and the observance of the ecclesiastical laws in processes of beatification and canonization of saints. Before the reform of the process
of canonization by John Paul II's apostolic constitution Divinus perfectionis magister (1983), the promoter of the faith took on a legal adversarial role. He was entrusted with opposing the claims of the patrons of the cause and those of the "saint's advocate," thereby earning for himself the easily misunderstood title of "devil's" advocate. In actual fact, he was rather the advocate of the Church, which must be extremely severe in the investigation directed to establish whether or not a baptized person is truly qualified to be beatified or canonized. Statistical data on such causes clearly show that several processes, apparently very promising at the beginning, had to be abandoned later because of difficulties, raised by the promoter of the faith, that could not be satisfactorily answered. In these cases, the critical and seemingly negative work of the promoter of the faith undoubtedly had a great positive value, inasmuch as it prevented the Church from pronouncing a certain and favorable judgment on the life and works of a person without possessing unquestionable proof. The function of the promoter of the faith proved itself most useful in the processes that were successfully concluded. Not only did he guarantee that the proceedings were conducted according to law, but the objections raised by him (animadversiones ) compelled the patrons of the cause to perform an ever more profound and complete examination of the person in question. Consequently, his activity contributed to the effort of presenting the servant of God in his true image, so that the faithful may come to know the Christian richness of his soul and look on him as a person selected by God for the Church and worthy of beatification and canonization.
Historical Background. A definite juridical structure has been given to processes of beatification and canonization only in relatively recent times. The first mention of the office of promoter of the faith was made at the time of Leo X (1513–21), and the office was united with that of the fiscal advocate. In 1708 Clement XI decreed that these two functions had to be separated; he selected a distinguished jurist, Prospero Lambertini, to discharge the duties of general promoter of the faith. During 20 years of research and study Lambertini established the definitive foundation of the present legislation and outlined, in a clear form, the various rights and duties of the promotor fidei. Lambertini, who was elected pope and took the name of Benedict XIV, declared that the offices of promoter of the faith and fiscal advocate were incompatible and decreed that the office of general promoter of the faith had to be autonomous. John Paul II reformed the office so that the promoter of the faith, while still having oversight over the canonization process, no longer acts as a legal adversary.
Bibliography: benedict xiv, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, ed. n. and m. palearini, v. 1–4 (3d ed. Rome 1747–49), esp. 1:147–156. a. m. santarelli, ed., Codex pro Postulatoribus Causarum Beatificationis et Canonizationis (4th ed. Rome 1929), passim, esp. 37–42. john paul ii, Divinus perfectionis magister (Vatican City 1983).