The Roman Centurion, Cornelius story is unique in the early Church. We read his story in the whole chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius story tells us that there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile converts.
The Acts introduces Cornelius as a godly Roman Centurion. There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, who was a captain in the Roman regiment called The Italian Regiment. He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshipped God. He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God. (Acts 10, 1-2)
Cornelius must have been God-fearing Roman who did not like much the polytheism and pagan philosophy of the Romans. He must have been attracted to the monotheist spirituality of the Jews. So he turned to prayer and helping the poor generously.
Then, the unexpected happened to him in the form of a vision. Acts says, It was about three oclock one afternoon when he had a vision, in which he clearly saw an angel of God come in and say to him, Cornelius! (Acts 10, 3)
The conversation between the angel of his vision and Cornelius shows his openness and his willingness to act. He acts immediate on this vision. He sends two servants and a soldier to fetch Peter from Joppa as instructed by the angel in his vision.
While Cornelius men are on their way to Joppa, Simon Peter also gets a vision.
In his vision Peter saw heaven opened and a large sheet like thing being lowered with all kinds animals, reptiles and wild birds. A voice said to him, Get up, Peter; kill and eat! (Acts 10, 13). But Peter protested that he has never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled.
The voice spoke to him again, Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean. This happened three times, and then the thing was taken back up into heaven (Acts 10, 15-16).
Peter was puzzled with the vision. While he was pondering about it, Cornelius men reached there asking for Peter.
While Peter was still wondering about the vision the Spirit said to Peter Listen! Three men are here looking for you. So get ready and go down, and do not hesitate to go with them (Acts 10, 19-20). So Peter went down and met Cornelius men.
The three men told Peter the story of Cornelius and their mission to take Peter to their master. Peter welcomed the three men to the house. On the next day taking a few Jewish converts with him Peter left with them to Cornelius house. On the following day they reached Cornelius house at Caesarea and Cornelius welcomed Peter by falling at his feet.
Peter made him raise saying that I am only a man. In Cornelius house Peter found many relatives and friends of Cornelius waiting for him.
So Peter said to Cornelius, You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. And so when you sent for me, I came without any objection (Acts 10, 28-29). Then, at the request of Peter, Cornelius shared about his vision.
Peter then addressed the whole gathering. I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. Whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what race he belongs to. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10, 34-36)
Continuing his message Peter explained to the whole gathering the life, death, resurrection and the teaching of Jesus.
While Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit come down on all his listeners. Peter and the Jewish believers were amazed that the gentiles too received the Holy Spirit!
Peter understood that the gentiles have received the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers did. So he ordered them to be baptised with water in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, at the request of Cornelius and party Peter stayed with them a few days.
Cornelius story has special significance in the early Church as there was a controversy about the Jewish converts and the gentile converts about circumcision.
The controversy was settled in the first Council at Jerusalem under the chairperson James, the brother of Jesus, in which Peter narrated the story of Cornelius and Paul and Barnabas about their Gentile converts.
The conversion of Cornelius as well as his relatives and friends shows to us that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles among the followers of Jesus.
In the whole story of Cornelius we see his goodness, praying habit as well as his obedience and spiritual receptivity.