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.
Stationed in Caesarea, Cornelius is depicted in the New Testament as a man 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 Simon Peter's vision, he sees all manner of four-footed beasts and birds of the air being lowed 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.
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 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.
Cornelius lived in Caesarea, the political capital of Judea under Herod and the Romans. Although he is not mentioned again, he and his household presumably formed the nucleus of the Christian community that we find mentioned later (Acts 8:40; 21:18) in this important city.
The controversial aspect of Gentile conversion is taken up later at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Propers for Cornelius the Centurion - 4 February - First of the Gentiles.
O GOD, who by thy spirit didst call Cornelius the Centurion to be the first Christian among the Gentiles: Grant to thy Church in every nation a ready mind and will to proclaim thy love to all who turn to thee with unfeigned hope and faith; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle - Acts 11:1-18.
AND the apostles and brethren that were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descended, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven. And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: and he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
The Gospel - St. John 4:4-14.
JESUS must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
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