Cornelius the Centurion
Cornelius the Centurion
Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709
|Venerated in||Roman Catholicism|
Eastern Orthodox Church
|Feast||2 February, 7 February, 13 September|
|Attributes||Roman military garb|
Cornelius was a centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, mentioned as Cohors Italica in the Vulgate. He was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province. He is depicted in the New Testament as a God-fearing man who always prayed and was full of good works and deeds of alms. Cornelius receives a vision in which an angel of God tells him that his prayers have been heard; he understands that he's chosen for a higher alternative. The angel then instructs Cornelius to send the men of his household to Joppa, where they will find Simon Peter, who is residing with a tanner by the name of Simon (Acts 10:5ff).
The conversion of Cornelius comes after a separate vision given to Simon Peter (Acts 10:10–16) himself. In the vision, Simon Peter sees all manner of beasts and fowl being lowered from Heaven in a sheet. A voice commands Simon Peter to eat. When he objects to eating those animals that are unclean according to Mosaic Law, the voice tells him not to call unclean that which God has cleansed.
When Cornelius' men arrive, Simon Peter understands that through this vision the Lord commanded the Apostle to preach the Word of God to the Gentiles. Peter accompanies Cornelius' men back to Caesarea. When Cornelius meets Simon Peter, he falls at Peter's feet. Simon Peter raises the centurion and the two men share their visions. Simon Peter tells of Jesus' ministry and the Resurrection; the Holy Spirit descends on everyone at the gathering. The Jews among the group (presumably they were all Jews if Cornelius was the first gentile convert, see Jewish Christians) are amazed that Cornelius and other uncircumcised should begin speaking in tongues, praising God. Thereupon Simon Peter commands that Cornelius and his followers be baptized. The controversial aspect of Gentile conversion is taken up later at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Cornelius was one of the first Gentiles converted to Christianity.
The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the early Christian church, along with the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. The Christian church was first formed around the original disciples and followers of Jesus, all of whom, including Jesus himself, were Jewish. All males in that community were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses. The reception of Cornelius sparked a debate among the leaders of the new community of followers of Jesus, culminating in the decision to allow Gentiles to become Christians without conforming to Jewish requirements for circumcision, as recounted in Acts 15.
Cornelius is honored with a commemoration in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 4 February. When Governors Island in New York City was a military installation, the Episcopal Church maintained a stone chapel there dedicated to him.
- Images of St. Cornelius Chapel, Governors Island, New York
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