Cornelius the Centurion

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Cornelius the Centurion
Baptism of cornelius.jpg
Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709.
Born unknown
Died unknown
Honored in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion
Feast 2 February,[1] 7 February
Attributes Roman military garb

Cornelius (in Greek, Κορνήλιος) was a Roman centurion who is considered by Christians to be the first Gentile to convert to the faith, as related in Acts of the Apostles.

Biblical account[edit]

A centurion of the Italic cohort, Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province.[2] 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. 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.

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.[3]

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.[3] 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 falls 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.[4] The controversial aspect of Gentile conversion is taken up later at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), but has its roots in the concept of "proselytes" in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and Jewish Noahide Law.

Peter later chose not to eat with Gentiles in Antioch after some Jews criticized him. The apostle Paul publicly confronted Peter for being hypocritical as related in Galatians 2.

Significance[edit]

In this painting by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout an angel appears to the Roman centurion Cornelius. The angel tells him to seek out St. Peter.[5] The Walters Art Museum.

Cornelius was a centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, mentioned as Cohors Italica in the Vulgate.[6]

Florentine Bechtel summarizes the importance of Cornelius' baptism as follows:

The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the Early Church. The gates of the Church, within which thus far only those who were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses had been admitted, were now thrown open to the uncircumcised Gentiles without the obligation of submitting to the Jewish ceremonial laws.[2]

Certain traditions hold Cornelius as becoming either the first bishop of Caesarea or the bishop of Scepsis in Mysia.[2][4]

Veneration[edit]

His feast day on the Roman calendar is 2 February. He is commemorated in the Orthodox tradition on September 13.[3]

Cornelius is honored with a commemoration in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on February 4.[7] When Governor's Island, New York, was a military installation the Episcopal Church maintained a stone chapel there dedicated to him.

in popular cultural[edit]

  • Cornelius is a main character in several works of literature, including Sholem Asch's novel The Nazarene (1939).
  • Cornelius is also the title and subject of a song by the Christian Rock/Pop band Newsboys.
  • In 2012, a contemporary Praise & Worship musical based on the life of Cornelius debuted at The Living Waters Theatre (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) named "The Centurion The Musical"; written and produced by Debbie Orloff, with Donald Braswell II starring as Cornelius and with music by contemporary Christian artists including Steven Curtis Chapman, Nicole C. Mullen, Keith Getty, Chris Tomlin.[8]

Images of St. Cornelius Chapel, Governor's Island, New York[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]