Monday, April 5, 2010

Saints on Trial

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has played "devil’s advocate." Hopefully, Duke Law students also read The Devil’s Advocate. You may have even borrowed The Devil’s Advocate from our Legal DVDs collection. But do you know the origin of this famous phrase?

A segment of CBS’s Sunday Morning Easter broadcast explored the process of canonization in the Roman Catholic Church (transcript). Two hagiographers (biographers of the saints) described some of the most memorable paths to sainthood in Church history (such as the patron saint of chefs being grilled over hot coals), while a Vatican official described the canonization process:
There's no getting around the rule that you have to be responsible for at least two miracles. This (surprise, surprise) is hard for investigators to prove.

"Sometimes you know, we're called upon to do a CSI investigation," said Sarno, "especially in cases, for example, of miracles, where you actually have to put down on paper, you know, dates and times of different medical treatments, medicines given, when people started to pray, where did they pray, what happened, what did they do."

Until recently, would-be saints were literally put on trial. The lawyer assigned to argue against a candidate was commonly known as "the devil's advocate."
The office of the “devil’s advocate” was eventually abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983; the updated “norms” can be found at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The Vatican also hosts an English translation of the Code of Canon Law, which can additionally be found in the Law Library in various translations. But what if you were intrigued enough to want to research the history of the “devil’s advocate”, or read about some of these trials? You might need to dig deeper.

On the legal side of things, the Goodson Law Library has a modest collection of historical materials on “canon law”, including pre-1983 versions of the Codex Iuris Canonici (Code of Canon Law), in both English and Latin. Canons 1999-2141 (approx.) relate to the process of beatification and canonization, and describe the procedure for apostolic trials. There are also treatises, such as the eight-volume Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law (1918) and Manual of Canon Law (1948), which attempt to explain the nuances of ecclesiastical procedure. All of these materials can be found on Level 1 of the Goodson Law Library, at call numbers beginning with KBU2210. Locate these and other titles in the libraries’ catalog with a subject heading search for “Canon Law” (limited to the Law Library and campus-wide).

More information about canonization, including biographies of individual saints, can be found at Duke’s Divinity School Library. In addition, the ATLA Religion Database indexes more than a million publications on world religions.

For help navigating these saintly materials (or any other research question), Ask a Librarian.