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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The devil's advocate

- Professor Langdon is flown to CERN in a Lockheed Martin X-33

After the recent exciting news of the particle accelerator at CERN, I decided to see if Dan Brown's book, Angels & Demons, which features CERN, might be in audio form. The library had it - 18 sound discs. It begins with the murder of a scientist/Catholic priest working at CERN. Robert Langdon, a professor of religious symbology at Harvard, is called to help by CERN's director, as the corpse is found with the brand of a legendary secret society, the illuminati, burned into its chest.

I'm not sure if I'll keep reading the book. The writing style is ok, if not inspired, and the subject matter is interesting, but the writer does a lot of mixing truth and untruth (or inaccuracies) For instance, Brown uses CERN in the story, which of course does exist, but he must have known that it's impossible to build a bomb using antimatter as it would take literally billions of years to produce the amount needed, yet still he has an antimatter bomb in the book. Some of the stuff about the Church is also inaccurate.

One interesting thing I've learned from the story ...... the meaning of a devil's advocate in the context of the making of a saint. One of the characters in the book is a Promoter of the Faith, otherwise known as a devil's advocate. Here's a little of what wikipedia writes about that position ....


[...] During the canonization process of the Roman Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith (Latin Promotor Fidei), popularly known as the Devil's Advocate (Latin advocatus diaboli), was a canon lawyer appointed by the Church to argue against the canonization of the candidate. It was his job to take a skeptical view of the candidate's character, to look for holes in the evidence, to argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate were fraudulent, etc. The Devil's advocate was opposed by God's advocate, whose job was to make the argument in favor of canonization. The office was established in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V and was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983. This abolition streamlined the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.

Such a dramatic increase suggests that the office of the Devil's Advocate had served to reduce the number of canonizations by complicating the process. Some argue that it served a useful role in ensuring that canonizations did not proceed without due care and hence the status of sainthood was not easily achieved. In cases of controversy the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization. The British born American columnist Christopher Hitchens was famously asked to testify against the beatification of Mother Teresa in 2002, a role he would later humorously describe as being akin to "representing the Evil One, as it were, pro bono" .....


Hmmmm .... this makes me think of the canonization of Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei.


Anonymous Paul Maurice Martin said...

Interesting! I had no idea of the origin of that phrase.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Garpu said...

I'm kind of glad Benedict doesn't appear to be cranking out quite so many saints. I have to wonder about some of them under JPII.

9:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Paul, Me either.

11:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hey Garpu. Before reading the wikipedia thing, I hadn't realized JPII had canonized so many people. I had read the Opus Dei founder had become a saint unusually quickly .... I have to read more about that.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Paula said...

Crystal, I live close to CERN as you maybe remember so if something goes wrong I will lit a beacon.:-).

I just re-opened my place. Hope you are fine.

9:34 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Paula,

Yes, let us know if that part of the world starts sliding into a CERN created black hole :)

Glad to har you are back.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Paula said...

For some reasons I really doubt that they will get a relevant result. I imagine God is smiling upon the whole idea of the CERN experiment...:-)...

10:36 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Oof. I bought that at an airport bookstore for one of my trips to Texas. All I really remember now is how it grew increasingly silly as it went along. Like watching bad TV late at night and not being able to recall the next day what I saw.

I forgot it had to do with CERN.

Your post is better and more interesting than the book!

5:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


That's how I felt about the Da Vinci Code movie made fronm his other book. I tried to watch it but it got increasingly silly too and I finally gave up halfway through.

10:49 PM  

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