Adomnan of Iona vs. Cornelius the Centurion

Only in Lent Madness will you encounter a 7th century Irish monk doing battle with Biblical Roman soldier. But here we are, as Adomnan of Iona takes on Cornelius the Centurion for a shot at the Elate Eight.

Yesterday, Canaire flew past Cyprian of Carthage 60% to 40%.

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Adomnan of Iona

Three particular stories of Adamnán stand out: one as causal to his work as Abbot, one as illustrative of his persistence, and one as emblematic of his ongoing influence in Celtic Christianity.

One article[1] argues that Adamnán’s Law was unique in early medieval Europe and was precipitated by his personal experience. Following Augustine’s 4th century rules for “just war,” no one seemed to consider the justice of specific acts within such a war. That is, once a war is considered “just,” anything goes. As a result, as legend has it, Adomnan himself encountered the truly gruesome consequences of war. The story goes that he and his mother, Ronat, visited the aftermath of a battle at Mide to find a uniquely tragic scene: “the head of a woman lying in one place and her body in another, and her infant on the breast of her corpse. There was a stream of milk on one of its cheeks and a stream of blood on the other cheek.” This heartbreak the holy man could not abide, leading him to push for the protection of women, children, and clerics in wartime. An alternate version of the story concludes with Ronat herself demanding her son to shelter women from the horrors of war.

While in the Northmbria kingdom of England in the 680’s, Adamnán was convinced by the Abbot of Wearmouth that the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter was more correct than the method that Iona and much of the Celtic world had been using. The English Church had adopted the practice from Rome’s Orthodox Church at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Adamnán tried unsuccessfully to persuade his brothers in Iona upon his return, and argued for the Roman method at the Synod of Birr in 697. Eventually, Iona and the Celtic churches did accept the Roman method, but alas it was not until 716, 10 years after Adamnán’s death.

There is a narrative dating from the 10th or 11th century—long after Adamnán’s death in 705—that is entitled The Vision of Adamnán. In this story, Adamnán is whisked away to the realm of the dead, where he is led by an angelic guide on a tour of heaven and hell. Heaven is a beautiful city with seven walls, where God lives accompanied by birds, angels, and saints. Hell is a fiery pit, where unrepentant sinners are abandoned to their punishments. Between the two is a city with six gates that serves as a proto-Purgatory, and a bridge whose width corresponds to one’s goodness—the holy and obedient person enjoys a wide, easily-traveled bridge, whereas the wicked traverse an ever-narrowing bridge that eventually dumps them into the flames. Some say this visionary tale indirectly influenced Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Were all Alba mine
From its centre to its border,
I would rather have the site of a house
In the middle of fair Derry.

--from Colum Cille’s Greeting to Ireland, in Adomnan’s Life of Columba

Keegan Osinski

Cornelius the Centurion

Cornelius gets a significant role as a supporting actor in a scene in the Acts of the Apostles with Peter, then by and large, goes off screen and stays there. His scene is one that is momentous, showing the shifts and changes and growth of the early group of Christians who, by and large, were making this following Christ way of life up as they went along.

One of the major questions of the early followers of The Way was who, exactly, could be Christian. Jesus himself, as well as the vast majority of his early disciples, were Jewish.

So, our early Christians wondered, do followers of The Way have to be Jewish, too?

Cornelius’ appearance in the 10th chapter of Acts makes a decisive shift in the story of the followers of Jesus. He is identified as a centurion, and officer in the Roman army, who was devout. This might suggest that while he, himself was not Jewish (not circumcised), he practiced many aspects of Jewish prayer and followed the commandments.

Then Cornelius has a vision, a dream, even.

God loves a good quirky dream to interrupt someone’s life. Cornelius has a vision, and we hear from the man himself for the first time, when he asks, “What is it, Lord?” For all the quotes that impact our faith, perhaps none is more honest and more faithful than the words that indicate, as Cornelius’ do, a faith that will follow where God is leading.

God answers with some vagueness. Cornelius is to send men to Joppa to find Peter, who, in fact, is having his own quirky encounter with God via a vision involving something larger than a sheet and all manner of critters in the sheet that were on the menu for dinner.

Peter is confused, not an unusual state for Peter, but he can barely utter his own words of confusion before Cornelius’s men show up and relay the contents of quirky vision number one to Peter. Off Peter goes, and he and Cornelius meet. Cornelius drops to his knees and worships Peter. Peter commands Cornelius to get up, then the two men have a conversation.

Well, Cornelius gives Peter a recap of his quirky vision, then Peter begins a theological dialogue that ends with the insight that ethnic identity is not required to be a Christian. In fact, Cornelius, in his actions, models what is necessary to be a Christian – loving God and loving one’s neighbor.

The quirks of God through Cornelius remind us that faith is not about power or familial ties or even the words we say. Faith in Christ is about love – loving God and loving our neighbor.

Cornelius reminds us of the foundational word of following Jesus – love.

Laurie Brock

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31 comments on “Adomnan of Iona vs. Cornelius the Centurion”

  1. Alas, a Canaire v Kassia round is not to be.

    Adamnán of Iona has much to commend him to us, but without Cornelius the Centurion would Adamnán have ever heard the Gospel and known it was Good News for him too? Would Paul of Tarsus written, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." to the the Galatians? Would you there even be an Anglican Communion? Without an Anglican Communion, would we even have Lent Madness?

  2. Well I was all set to vote for Adomnan, but was persuaded by Laurie Brock’s narrative to go with Cornelius.

  3. Adamnan's response to the horrors of war, and his injunction that women and children must be spared, is particularly relevant right now, when everyone seems to have forgotten it. It's a fitting response to the idea of a "just" war- if we're right, we are allowed to massacre everyone in sight. That is not what God wants us to do.

    1. This is exactly why I also chose Adomnan. The horrors of the wars in Palestine and Ukraine are a lesson that Adomnan's admonitions are still not followed. Alas.

  4. I vote today for Adomnan, who with his mother realized that a just war does not allow the widespread killing of women and children.

  5. I figure I am voting for the underdog, but Adomnan has my vote. It is his compassion for women in an age of brutality. I kind of sense that it is his mother’s badgering that gets him moving in that direction, but he gets my vote just the same.

  6. The principle of not targeting women, children, clergy and other non-combatants is dangerously eroded these days. Adomnan of Iona has my vote for getting this concept started, in hopes that it might be strengthened in the global disputes today.

  7. I love Iona and voted for Adomnan but was almost persuaded to vote for Cornelius because the write up for him by Laurie was so powerful. It is really hard when both essays are so good and persuasive. Kudos to Keegan and Laurie.

  8. Very tough voting decision this morning. Both saints are eminently worthy of the Golden Halo. But Adomnan's humane Lex Innocentium compelled me to vote for him.

  9. Bravae both bloggers! Well done! I was going to vote for Cornelius, but the parallelism of "one as causal, one as illustrative, and one as emblematic" won me over. A rhetorical trinity before my first cup of coffee! I follow Palestinian journalists on Instagram, so the images of bunker busting bombs dropped onto crowded apartment buildings leaving crushed human remains and children with bloody cheeks are fresh in my mind. Surely there is no such thing as a "holy war" waged to steal other people's land. Today's world seems glutted with unrepentant sinners, many of them tricked out with little shiny crosses as they play "scary mom" for a television audience. Dante only sealed the deal. I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost . . . I voted for Adamnan.

    1. Thank you for expressing it so eloquently. Both bloggers made excellent arguments. Both saints are deserving. For the same reasons as you cite, which are available every day for all to see and hear, Adomnan has my vote today.

  10. Like others, I found this one hard, too. Cornelius’ story and its lesson for Peter are seminal, and Laurie’s presentation was so good. But I’m voting for Adamnán out of love for Iona and horror at the current atrocities of war we see in the world, which he strove to diminish.

  11. Adomnon did indeed “protect” women , but it was as much as anything because he believed that women should be seen and not heard. As a result of his actions, women in the Celtic world lost their right to make decisions for themselves ( including being warriors) and became chattel of their husbands and fathers. Before then women had equal rights with men in Ireland.

  12. This was a tough one for me, but I finally went with the Ionian. Cornelius was just a vessel for a very important message, whereas Adomnan acted on his own.

  13. Adomnan, and his Mom, call us to acknowledge the brutality of war. No matter how 'just' a conflict, innocents are victimized. I voted for the guy who listened to his Mom, who understood 'collateral damage' for what it is, the 'unjust' destruction of life; and who worked to end this senseless violence.

  14. I was all set to vote for Adomnan because to the terrible war atrocities which we see each day in the media, but then the line in Cornelius's write up about Jesus and love and went with the Centurion (soldier) who taught that loving God and neighbour is the way.

  15. Another 1/2 vote to the contestants.
    Adomnan got my choice.
    His story reminded me of a poster from the '60s:
    "War is bad for flowers, and other living things ..."

  16. Having nominated Adomnan of Iona for some years now, I am not about to abandon him, even for Cornelius. My vote goes to Adomnan, for his work to protect women and children in times of war, more needed now than ever, for the reach of his influence in Europe, and for his biography of Columba.

  17. Cornelius is identified as the centurion who converted with his entire household. He is the first gentile to become a Christian. It is interesting that he was a professional soldier, drawn to a Faith that was pacifist. Tradition says that he was the centurion present at the crucifixion, the man in charge of the soldiers who brought Jesus to Golgotha. The sight of an innocent, holy man being unjustly executed obviously shocked his conscience. We gentiles are spiritual descendants of Cornelius; we have crucified Jesus, and we now worship him.

  18. I was unable to vote for Adomnan today. I am blind. Adaptive software on my computer reads to me; input through my ears, not eyes. When THE TEST ti prove I Am Not A Robot comes up I use the audio alternative. This morning there was a problem. What I heard was low in volume and mush-mouthed. I backed out and tried again. I was blocked. I think at your end this was interpreted as multiple voting. Anyway I'm aced out. Not happy. BTW I am a Sister in the Anamchara Fellowship, and a member of Iona Priory of that Religious Community!

  19. The meeting of Peter and Cornelius stands today to show that God loves us all and not just some faction. We are all called to live with each other and our differences in God's love.

  20. In a time where some are attempting to narrowly define who and what a Christian is based seemingly on political leanings I voted for Cornelius. His story reminds us that God is not nearly as narrow minded as some would want us to believe. Faith in Jesus Christ and that alone is Gods requirement.

  21. Well, at least the email came today! Not until after 3:00 PM, but at least it wasn't in the middle of the night or missing altogether. The technical glitches continue.

  22. The Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt do no murder.” forbids the slaughter of innocents: women, children, the elderly, the disabled. Even in a "just" war, God has made it clear the difference between killing the enemy and murdering non-combattants.
    I voted for Cornelius because his position in the Roman Army put him in deadly danger, but he relied on his faith to keep him on the path, following Jesus Christ.