Cornelius the Centurion

Cornelius the Centurion
Cornelius the Centurion

Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709.
Born unknown
Died unknown
Honored in Roman Catholicism, 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

Stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province, Cornelius 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 only comes after yet another vision given to Simon Peter (Acts 10:10-16) himself. In the vision, Simon Peter sees all manner of four-footed beasts and birds of the air being lowered from Heaven in a sheet. A voice commands Simon Peter to eat. When he objects to eating those animals that are unclean to Mosaic Law, the voice tells him not to call unclean that which God has cleansed or purified.

When Cornelius' men arrive, Simon Peter understands that the vision permits the conversion of the Gentiles. When Cornelius himself meets Simon Peter, Cornelius falls at his feet in adoration. Picking Cornelius up, Simon Peter welcomes him. After the two men share their visions, and 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 orders that Cornelius and his followers be baptized.

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. See Biblical law in Christianity for details.


It is believed that Cornelius was a centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, mentioned as Cohors Italica in the Vulgate.[2]

The Catholic Encyclopedia 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.

—F. Bechtel, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908.[3]

Role in tradition

Certain traditions hold Cornelius as becoming either the first bishop of Caesarea or the bishop of Scepsis in Mysia.[3] His feast day on the Roman calendar is 2 February.[1]

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

Cultural references

  • 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.

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

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Jones, Terry. "Cornelius the Centurion". Patron Saints Index. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  2. ^ Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979, p. 297
  3. ^ a b  "Cornelius". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 

External links

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