The Fifth Gospel: Acts 10:25-48

Cornelius-the-CenturionAs an avocational historian I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. The days gone by fascinate me and I often wonder what it was like for people who lived in earlier times.

Saint Peter writes in his second epistle that, “There is no time with God: a single day: a thousand years: it is the same” (2 Pt 3:8). That said, let us then reflect on the realm outside of time in which the Holy Trinity dwells.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Dei Verbum, “The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) published the document at the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1963).

Dei Verbum gives us a God’s-eye view of time and eternity. It calls for greater devotion to the Word of God.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, the great medieval theologian who knew the Bible better than he knew himself, said that “by hearing the message of salvation the entire world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping, it may love.”

Church Fathers produced Dei Verbum to reemphasize the importance of the Bible in the life of the Church, calling for a worldwide Bible revival.

The Word of God, who is Jesus, was a gift conferred upon humanity from on high.

“Through Divine Revelation God chose to show forth and to communicate the eternal laws of his will for the salvation of the world. That is to say, he chose to share with us divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind” (DV no. 6).

In short, if God had not approached us first, had never broken into human history, we could never have comprehended the existence of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

How do we understand? Open the Bible and read the first three verses of the Book of Genesis, which establish the unity of the Trinity in the cosmos.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, and a great wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. (Gn 1:1-3)

God the Father is the creator; God the Spirit permeates the world, and God the Son gives light to those in darkness (cf Jn 1:3c). This all happened outside of time in eternity.

According to Dei Verbum human beings scarcely possess the intellect to discern the living God. This does not mean that we are dumb beasts that live by instinct rather than reason. God wants us to know and to love him and he communicates through the only Word that he need speak: Jesus.

In my case I came in through the backdoor when I returned to the faith after a long hiatus. I spend much of my day with the scriptures open before me on my desk. My study looks like somebody threw a hand grenade into a library.

I own several copies of the Good Book of various translations but my go-to-bible that I purchased ten years ago is held together with tape, rubber bands, and Gorilla Glue. It is always close at hand. When I die I will have it buried with me.

Maybe I should put it in my will. Sharing God’s revelation with others is the commandment we received from his Son. That’s the thing about faith: we have to give it away in order to keep it.

The Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book in the canonical Christian Scriptures is often referred to as “the fifth gospel.” Acts also originated outside of time, for the subject of the book is evangelization through the Holy Spirit.

The continuity between Judaism and Catholicism is as breathless as it is seamless. Like our Jewish ancestors we are a “people of the book,” which is what the Muslims used to call us when they razed our churches and burned our bibles.

(I hope no one puts out a fatwa on me for saying that but it is our history. Thankfully I’m not a cartoonist.)

The tenth chapter of Acts is devoted to the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. He lived with his family in Caesarea by the sea.

Cornelius is described as a devout and generous man, who prayed daily to God and financed the construction of Judeo-Christian worship houses.

But Cornelius felt disillusioned with the Roman pantheon of gods devoted to the worship of stars and planets: Jupiter, Mercury, Mars the god of war, and Pluto (—Jiminy Cricket too).

The soldier and his family felt called to greater transcendence, something they knew existed yet did not understand. They wished to posses what the Christians held sacrosanct: a loving relationship with a creative and eternal God.

Even stars eventually collapse into supernovas and incinerate.

One day the Lord answered Cornelius’s prayers, instructing him to summon the Apostle Peter. When Peter entered the centurion’s house Cornelius was so awestruck that he fell to his knees.

Peter raised him up. “Stand on your feet, for I, too, like you, am a man” (Acts 10:26).

The encounter between a gentile and a Jew—strictly forbidden by orthodox Jewish culture—resulted from a shared revelation that each man received.

The time had arrived for the abrogation of the old law and the proclamation of the new law of the gospel.

The Trinity has decreed Christian unity among the nations. In the Gospel According to Matthew the servant of a centurion is cured by Jesus who proclaims that the entire world shall conform to the Word of God.

“Amen, I say to you, many will come from the east and from the west and will share a banquet at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (8:12).

(I love it when Jesus agrees with me.)

Now Peter stood on solid ground and could assure Cornelius and his family that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). We are equal in God’s eyes and share the sunlight of the Spirit.

Peter was an open-minded man of vision and he loved God intensely. In a short baptismal homily—the first to a non-Jew—he broke open the Word and so through the Apostle “the Lord revealed his saving power to the nations,” as it is written in the Hebrew scriptures.

Peter wasn’t satisfied. He took it a step further: he ordered the family to be baptized into the worldwide household of faith (Acts 10:48).

Conversion of the nations through the Word, one soul at a time, is assured, for cradle Catholics and converts alike, or anyone who prays devoutly to the Trinity and possesses a generous heart.

On Interstate 94 between Jackson and Ann Arbor stands a billboard that exhorts Americans to return to the basics of our faith: daily prayer; reception of the sacraments; reading the Bible.

I pass that billboard weekly and recall how God revealed himself to me through the Word.

What is needed in our church, in America, and throughout the world is a universal Bible Revival, as is called for in Dei Verbum.

We are not fundamentalists—God did not create the world in a six-day workweek yet he did work overtime—but we must continuously pray for a revelation and a return to the fundamentals of the faith: prayer, the sacraments and Holy Scripture.

Church history proves their efficacy.

I don’t know about you, but if the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

What say you?

Father Cordani was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MDiv from Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. He has written for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and Columbia Magazine. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tucker.cordani and Twitter @tuckercordani