Preface of Pentecost
PRAYER (traditional language)
O God, who by thy Spirit didst call Cornelius the Centurion
to be the first Christian among the Gentiles: Grant to thy Church, we
beseech thee, such a ready will to go where thou dost send and to do what
thou dost command, that under thy guidance it may welcome all who turn
to thee in love and faith, and proclaim the Gospel to all nations; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
O God, who by your Spirit called Cornelius the Centurion
to be the first Christian among the Gentiles: Grant to your Church such
a ready will to go where you send and to do what you command, that under
your guidance it may welcome all who turn to you in love and faith, and
proclaim the Gospel to all nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Lessons revised and date changed at GC 2009.
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Last updated: 27 Dec. 2009
All that we know of Cornelius is contained in the Book of Acts (chapters
10 and 11). A centurion was a Roman army officer, theoretically in charge
of a hundred men. Several centurions are mentioned in the New Testament
(Matt 8:5 = Luke 7:2; Matt 27:54 = Luke 23:47; Acts 10:1; 22:25; 23:17,23;
22:23; 27:1), and they are consistently portrayed favorably.
Cornelius is called a God-fearer--that is to say, he was a
monotheist, a Gentile who worshipped 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 Ps 115:9-13, Ps 118:2-4, and Ps 135:19-20. In New Testament times, an
estimated ten per cent of the population of the Roman Empire consisted of God-fearers,
Gentiles who recognized that the pagan belief in many gods and goddesses, who according to
the myths about them were given to adultery, treachery, intrigue, and the like, was not a
religion for a thoughtful and moral worshipper, and who had accordingly embraced an
ethical monotheism -- belief in One God, who had created the world, and who was the
upholder of the Moral Law. Although only a few of them took the step of formal conversion
to Judaism, undergoing circumcision and accepting the obligations of keeping the food laws
and ritual laws of Moses and his rabbinical interpreters, most of them attended synagogue
Cornelius, then, was a Roman centurion, and a God-fearing man.
One day, as he was praying, an angel appeared to him and told him to send a messenger to
Joppa and ask Peter to come and preach to him. Peter, meanwhile, was given a vision that
disposed 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 (Acts
2), and they began to speak in other tongues. Thus, there was ample evidence to convince
Jewish Christians who hesitated to believe that it was the will of God that Gentiles
should be brought into the Church.
Cornelius was the first Gentile converted to Christianity, along
with his household, and Luke, recording this event, clearly regards it as an event of the
utmost importance in the history of the early Church, the beginning of the Church's
decision to admit Gentiles to full and equal fellowship with Jewish Christians.
Cornelius lived in Caesarea, the political capital of Judea under Herod and
the Romans. (Given that Jerusalem was a holy city to the Jews, it would have been
needlessly provocative for the Romans to establish their headquarters there.) 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
by James Kiefer