Morris West's--The Devil's Advocate--is a perennial literary classic thriller that is an intermixture of politics and religion, which explores the behind-the-process investigative scenes of Catholic saint making. But that is really only the backdrop to the totality of the story, for the real narrative deals with the world weary and cynical English devil's advocate, Fr. Blaise Meredith, a man who has been informed that due to an illness, his life expectancy has been shortened. With such a blow, he submissively complies to that which he can not prevent from happening: death. He passively waits for it, dismissing his environment and the people contained within it, thus causing a premature emotional death, stunting him before actual physical death seizes him. As such, his 'boss' Eugenio Cardinal Marotta, tries to get him out of his self-made rut, something created long before his illness came into the scene. And it is an observation duly noted by Marotta, when he states on page 37, "...Part of the problem is that you and I and others like us have been removed too long from pastoral duty. We have lost touch with the people who keep us in touch with God. We have reduced the faith to an intellectual conception, an arid assent of the will, because we have not seen it working in the lives of common folk. We have lost pity and fear and love. We are the guardians of mysteries, but we have lost the awe of them. We work by canon, not by charity..."
Over the course of time, Blaise Meredith lost something within himself, the mystery of what brought him into religious life in the first place, that spark of Divine influence which ignited his actions, the excitement, the possibility, the allure; what he clung to was a partial illusion instead of the reality, and so, bit-by-bit, he gradually crumbled until his feelings became ashes and dust rather than his body. Yet, that is the beauty of humanity, for we each raise each other up when necessary, and Fr. Meredith is no exception. But he is raised up not by a living soul, but a departed one, a martyred witness whose cause for canonization he must investigate. But for him, it is yet another albatross around his neck, for he is of the belief that the world could do with more churches and better attendance than another holy rollar saint. However, the man whom he must investigate--Giacomo Nerone--appears anything but saintly, which in its own right is quite refreshing. But his adherence to the doctrine of the Church, even onto death, is what elevates him to the possibilities of the honor of the alter. The story surrounding Nerone and those who knew him slowly and intricately revives the devil's advocate's own faith. And his soul is gradually restored.
West's novel can be dissected on many levels and the characters that are gradually introduced are by all accounts flawed in their own very unique manner, for nothing is held back. But no matter how reprehensible some of the characters and situations may be, there is corrective redemption that is available; some take it and others do not, but for those who do, one can not but sigh with a degree of relief. As noted in the author biogrphy, The Devil's Advocate was awarded the Royal Society's William Heinemann Award, the National Brotherhood Award from the National Council of Christians and Jews as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Award. And for me, upon completion of the book, an understanding of the universal acclaim that it has received since its publication.