Why Did Cornelius Receive the Holy Spirit Before Baptism?
Why did Cornelius receive the Holy Spirit before baptism?
This is the one exception in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is given without the sacrament of baptism. But the exception was fitting, given the need for a public demonstration of God’s approval of the admission of Gentiles into the Church without the conditions of submitting to the Jewish ceremonial laws.
The two prior divine interventions were both subjective: Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16) and Cornelius’ vision (Acts 10:3-7). With the public evidence of God’s approval, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were hesitant to admit Gentiles into the Church (Acts 11:2, 3) could no longer be reasonably opposed to their admission. Many ceased their opposition (Acts 11:4-18), but a few extremists remained (Acts 15:1-2), which gave rise to the Council of Jerusalem, where Peter settled the debate (Acts 15:6-29).
This event is normally used by Protestants to undermine the Catholic belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. But such an attempt is futile. The Catholic Church recognizes that God is not “bound by his sacraments” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257). God can administer the graces of salvation apart from the sacraments in ways known only to him (see CCC 848). Only those to whom the sacraments have been revealed are bound (see CCC 847). Baptism is therefore the ordinary means of salvation (see 1 Pet. 3:21).