Saint Valentine is a Christian saint of the Third Century AD who is widely celebrated on February 14th and commonly associated with romantic love. Although not much of St. Valentine’s life is reliably known, it is highly agreed that St. Valentine was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome in or around the year 273 AD.
The story goes that St. Valentine (a former Bishop) was arrested late in his life for continuing to convert Pagans to the Christian Faith. He was sent to Rome and was martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II). In addition to converting people to the Christian Faith, St. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians being persecuted by Emperor Claudius II. All three of these acts were considered serious crimes.
While in prison, a relationship between St. Valentine and the Emperor began to grow, until Valentine attempted to convert Claudius. Then Emperor Claudius became enraged and sentenced Valentine to death, commanding him to publically renounce his Christian Faith and reject his Lord Jesus or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. St. Valentine refused to do this and was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 273 AD. However, ancient sources disagree on the exact year of his execution, indicating all the following years as possibilities: 269, 270, 273 or 280. Furthermore, one legend says that on the day of his execution he left a note behind to his flock signed “Your Valentine.”
The romantic nature of St. Valentine’s Day may have derived from the fact that he illegally officiated at the marriages of Christians while under Roman Pagan persecution. This romantic connection also may have derived from later Christian Church attempts to Christianize the Pagan holiday on February 15th called Lupercalia, which was a holiday celebrating Lupercus (a Roman god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus, who is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan). Lupercus was a Roman god of shepherds and flocks, and of nature and the wilderness. And although the exact origin of the Pagan Lupercalia holiday is not widely agreed upon, it is widely recognized that it was a day for romantic love and devotion.
Today, archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, and he is widely accepted as the Christian Patron Saint of romantic love, engaged couples and happy marriages. He is represented in Christian art with birds, bees and roses.
St. Valentine’s Day also gives us an opportunity to contemplate the New Testament concept of love. In the Greek language (the language of the New Testament) there are six words for love: Agape, Eros, Ludus, Philia, Philautia, and Pragma. While eros (romantic love) is mostly associated with St. Valentine, and while pragma (longstanding love) and philia (deep friendship love) are very important, the New Testament of Christ uplifts and emphasizes the divine love of agape for us all.
Agape is the compassionate, charitable and sacrificial love of God that extends to everyone. It is a love that transcends all of our differences of worldview and philosophy. While we might disagree as to what loving in this way might specifically look like within various situations, we are nonetheless called to share in an agape-love and servant-heart for the sake of the world. It is even a love that Christian law enforcement personnel and Christian military personnel (in their own uniquely God-given way) participate in as they honorably work to uphold an orderly and peaceable world. Theirs is a kind of tough agape-love on behalf of human society, but it is nevertheless a necessary kind of sacrificial love.
Agape-love is used throughout the New Testament, but here are some very good examples of this:
JOHN 15: 13
No one has greater love (agape) than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
FIRST JOHN 3: 16
We know love (agape) by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
FIRST JOHN 4: 7-11
Beloved, let us love (agape) one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
So as we look to celebrate eros-love on St. Valentine’s Day again this year, let us remember how St. Valentine lived the agape-love of Christ, and let us contemplate this agape-love for our own faith and life as Christians. Beloved, as “Valentines” of Christ whom God has agape-loved so much, we also ought to agape-love one another.
Your Fellow Valentine in Christ,