Cornelius the Centurion

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Cornelius the Centurion
Baptism of cornelius.jpg
Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709
The First Convert
Venerated inRoman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Feast20 October, 2 February,[1] 7 February, 13 September
AttributesRoman military garb

Cornelius (Greek: Κορνήλιος, romanizedKornélios; Latin: Cornelius) 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. The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the early Christian church.

Biblical account[edit]

Cornelius was a centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, mentioned as Cohors Italica in the Vulgate.[2][3] He was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province.[4] He is depicted in the New Testament as a God-fearing man[5] 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 has been 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.[6]

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.[6] 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.[7] The controversial aspect of Gentile conversion is taken up later at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).


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.[8] The Walters Art Museum.

Cornelius was one of the first Gentiles converted to Christianity.[9]

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.

Certain traditions hold Cornelius as becoming either the first bishop of Caesarea, or the bishop of Scepsis in Mysia.[4][7]


His feast day on the new Martyrologium Romanum is 20 October. He is commemorated in the Orthodox tradition on 13 September.[6]

Cornelius is honored with a commemoration in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 4 February.[10] When Governors Island in New York City was a military installation, the Episcopal Church maintained a stone chapel there dedicated to him.[11]

The Greek-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis is named after him.[12]


Images of St. Cornelius Chapel, Governors Island, New York

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, Terry. "Cornelius the Centurion". Patron Saints Index. Archived from the original on 2007-02-09. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  2. ^ Bromiley, Geoffrey W., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979, p. 297
  3. ^ Stagnaro, Angelo (February 2, 2017). "What Do We Know About St. Cornelius the Centurion?". National Catholic Register. EWTN News, Inc. Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  4. ^ a b Bechtel, Florentine. "Cornelius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Apr. 2013
  5. ^ Dunn, James D. G. (2009). Beginning from Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making. 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. p. 446. ISBN 978-0-8028-3932-9.
  6. ^ a b c "Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion", Orthodox Church in America
  7. ^ a b "The Departure of St. Cornelius the Centurion", Coptic Orthodox Church Network
  8. ^ "Vision of Cornelius the Centurion". The Walters Art Museum.
  9. ^ Kiefer, James E., "Cornelius the Centurion", Biographical sketches of memorable Christians of the past, Society of Archbishop Justus
  10. ^ "Cornelius the Centurion", the Episcopal Church
  11. ^ "CHURCH TO TURN OVER A CHAPEL ON GOVERNORS I. TO COAST GUARD". The New York Times. March 9, 1986. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  12. ^ François Dosse. Castoriadis. Une vie. Paris: La Découverte, 2014, p. 13.

External links[edit]