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According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Devil's Advocate (Advocatus Diaboli) was:

[a] popular title given to one of the most important officers of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, established in 1587, by Sixtus V, to deal juridically with processes of beatification and canonization.

Yet, toward the end, it says:

The first formal mention of such an officer is found in the canonization of St. Lawrence Justinian under Leo X (1513-21).

I am struggling to find who was the first person to hold such title. Unfortunately, the above text does not provide a reference to where such first formal mention is to be found. I have searched in texts related to the life of Leo X (here and here) without success. I have not found a compilation of the life of St. Lawrence either (which might mention something about his canonisation).

Moving forward, I decided to look for any mention of such person in the life of Sixtus V (compilations also available in www.archive.org), also without success. According to this book, the first saint canonised by Sixtus V (which might have used the services of an Advocatus Diaboli) was Didacus of Alcala. A book about the life of this saint (available here) does not mention much about it, except:

and quietly [Didacus] passed to his eternal reward. It was November 12, 1463. King Philip II, of Spain, joined the people in soliciting the canonization of the servant of God. Rome heeded the petition and the usual rigid examination into the life of the friar began. [...] Finally, unmistakable proof having been presented that through the intercession of Venerable Didacus at least two miracles, that is works such as only God can effect, had been wrought, Pope Sixtus V, in 1588, placed his name in the catalogue of saints.

Not very helpful either.

PS: the Advocatus Diaboli title was later changed to that of Promotor Fidei.

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  • Do we know the name of the current holder of the title? And how far back can we find names of previous devils advocates?
    – Kris
    Oct 26, 2017 at 22:31
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    I think this role was assigned case by case for approving sainthood and is now abolished. For the last case, Christopher Hitchens was asked to be devil's advocate in the case of mother Theresa by the Vatican, or in his own words: "In the course of this, I discovered that the pope during his tenure had surreptitiously abolished the famous office of “Devil’s Advocate,” in order to fast‐track still more of his many candidates for canonization. I can thus claim to be the only living person to have represented the Devil pro bono.”
    – Codosaur
    Apr 29, 2021 at 13:58
  • I believe the role was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
    – Lesley
    Dec 19, 2021 at 14:35

1 Answer 1

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The Latin Promoter Fidei translates in English to Promoter of Faith.

The devil's advocate was actually the official name of the Promoter Fidei, an office first attested during the pontificate of Leo X (1513-1521) and formally established by Sixtus V in 1587 during the Counter-Reformation. The duty of the Promotor Fidei was to oversee every aspect of the beatification and canonization process, ensuring that no person received the honors of sainthood rashly, that proper juridical form was observed, and that every potential weakness or objection to the saints canonization was raised and evaluated in order that only those who were truly worthy would be raised to the dignity of the altars.
(From "History of the Devil's Advocate")

This has jokingly led to the Promotor Fidei being called the "Advocatus diaboli" which in English is the "devil's advocate".

According the historian, Giovanni Papa, as commented on the brief of Urban VIII (1623-1644) the first nominated stable promoter of the faith, was Antonio Cerri, on January 2, 1631.

Source: http://www.jgray.org/docs/Promotor_Fidei_lulu.pdf

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    I've edited to show what we expect. Note that when you're quoting you can't then paraphrase it - the original article had "actually" not "originally". And you must be careful not to mix up your own original writings in the middle of a quote.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 9, 2022 at 23:30
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    But good research work in finding the name of the first Promotor Fidei!
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 9, 2022 at 23:33
  • Thank you very much. :)
    – user52134
    Mar 9, 2022 at 23:36
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    @JasonAlls Yes, good find. I tried to do it myself a year or two ago but failed. Welcome to C.SE ! Mar 9, 2022 at 23:53

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