Vision of Cornelius the Centurion

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In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort, as he was called. He was a devout man who feared God with his whole family; he generously gave alms to people and constantly prayed to God. One afternoon, at about three o'clock, he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God come in and say to him, "Cornelius."

Everything we know about Cornelius is contained in the Book of Acts. A centurion was an officer in the Roman army, theoretically in charge of a hundred men. Several centurions are mentioned in the New Testament and are always portrayed favorably.

Cornelius is called God-fearing, that is, he was a monotheist, a gentile who worshiped the One God. The Jews traditionally recognized that such Gentiles had a place in the Family of God, and they are mentioned along with the priests (House of Aaron), the Levites (House of Levi), and the Jews or Israelites (House of Israel) in the Psalms. . In New Testament times, an estimated ten percent of the population of the Roman Empire consisted of God-fearing, Gentiles acknowledging the pagan belief in many gods and goddesses, who according to myths about them were given to adultery, betrayal, intrigue, and the like, was not a religion for a moral and thoughtful worshipper, and who had consequently embraced an ethical monotheism: the belief in one God, who had created the world and who was the defender of the Moral Law. Although only a few made the step of formal conversion to Judaism, underwent circumcision, and accepted obligations to keep the dietary laws and ritual laws of Moses and his rabbinic interpreters, most of them attended synagogue services. regularly.

Cornelius, then, was a Roman centurion and a God-fearing man. One day while he was praying, an angel appeared to him and told him to send a messenger to Joppa and ask Peter to come preach to him. Meanwhile, Peter was given a vision that prompted him to go with the messenger. When Peter had preached to Cornelius and his family and friends, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on the first Christians at Pentecost (A 2), and they began to speak with other tongues. Therefore, there was ample evidence to convince the hesitant Jewish Christians to believe that it was God's will for Gentiles to be brought into the Church.

Cornelius was the first Gentile convert to Christianity, along with his family, and Luke, in recording this event, clearly regards it as an event of the greatest importance in the history of the early Church, the beginning of the Church's decision to admit to the Gentiles in full and equal fellowship with the Jewish Christians. Cornelius lived in Caesarea, the political capital of Judea under Herod and the Romans. (Since Jerusalem was a holy city for the Jews, it would have been unnecessarily provocative for the Romans to establish their headquarters there.) Although not mentioned again, he and his house presumably formed the core of the Christian community we encounter. mentioned later (A 8:40; 21:18) in this important city.

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