[Disclaimer: This blog post does not pretend to be an authoritative or scholarly historical analysis. Rather it is a musing on parallels which may exist between to today and antiquity.]
Today is Valentine’s Day. And while there may not be a lot of popular certainty about the precise origin of Saint Valentine’s Day, and even less about who this(these) Saint(s) Valentine was(were), there are some things to consider about the man or men of bygone antiquity who lend their name, if not their reputations, to this gushy holiday being celebrated in the Western world. (For simplicity’s sake, from here on, I will write about Saint Valentine in the singular exclusively.)
As history and legend have it, Saint Valentine, was a Third Century Italian Bishop or Priest who was eventually martyred during the reign, and by the order, of Emperor Claudius Gothicus. The jist of what we know about Saint Valentine’s life is that it involved proselytizing, assisting Christian’s in marrying, and evangelizing the Emperor. That last one is the probable cause of his martyrdom; the former two landed him in prison.
This Valentine’s Day weekend I have been thinking about how nice it would be to have someone like Saint Valentine around today. There are certainly parallels to be drawn between latter antiquity and today. Our culture prefers to act largely pagan and often times proselytizing and evangelizing are badly needed. Marriage may not be outlawed in the Claudian sense, but Christian marriage is mocked, misunderstood, resented, and too-often poorly practiced. Furthermore, there is of course Saint Valentine’s famous attempt at evangelizing the Emperor Claudius, but space does not permit for further musings about evangelizing today’s “emperors”. Think of how much need there is for those in the Church to take after Saint Valentine to propagate the gospel; defend, affirm, and enable Christian marriage; and to take faith seriously enough that martyrdom is seen not as a dreaded punishment, but a viable consequence of one’s actions.
One article I read tried to imply that, were Saint Valentine alive today, he would be fighting for the right of same-sex couples to marry. I find this to be delusional thinking, since Third Century Bishops tended to not embody the progressive ideal. I find it much more likely that Saint Valentine would be preaching the gospel, affirming Christian marriage, and taking his faith to prison as well as palace.
So this Valentine’s Day, take a moment or two to step back from the kitsch and cliche to consider the namesake of the holiday. Our world could use more Christians like Saint Valentine.
featured image from patheos.com