An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Cornelius the Centurion

He and his household were the first known Gentile converts to the Christian faith. Cornelius was stationed at Caesarea in Palestine. The story of the conversion and baptism of Cornelius and his household is recorded in Acts 10:1-11:18. Their conversion and baptism served as a precedent in resolving the question whether a Gentile must first become a Jew to become a Christian. Cornelius, “a devout man who feared God,” was commanded in a vision by an angel to send for Peter at Joppa. Before those sent by Cornelius arrived, Peter was told while in a trance, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter subsequently visited Cornelius's home, and proclaimed the Christian faith to them. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on Cornelius and his household. They spoke in tongues. This event was like the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles at Pentecost. Peter directed that Cornelius and his household should be baptized. Circumcision was not required by Peter for baptism. Peter was criticized by the Judaistic Christian church in Jerusalem for visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them. He defended himself by recalling the story of the baptism of Cornelius and his household. He noted that “God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” This silenced Peter's critics, who praised God and proclaimed that “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” This issue was later resolved more fully by an apostolic council in Jerusalem which determined that “we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15). Gentiles were admitted into the Christian church on an equal basis with Jewish converts. According to tradition, Cornelius became Bishop of Caesarea. His life is commemorated on Feb. 4 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.