Happy St. Valentine’s Day! By now, you will have already seen the day play out, there may have been candy hearts with messages on them, notes passed by children in school, and then the adult activities. What precisely was St. Valentine about, though?
Let’s take a trip back to the third century. You and I are sitting in a tavern in Rome in 270 AD. It is around the Ides of February, and most of the city is engaged in Lupercalia, a so-called cleansing time for the pagans all about us. The Emperor, Claudius II the Goth, has outlawed marriage. We are discussing how a couple is supposed to survive and children be born. As we look out on the street, there are likely people running around naked, odd adulterous activities conducted in public, and men running around whipping young women in some pagan ritual meant to increase fertility. Sounds like mayhem, and it was. It also sounds a bit like things today.
One bishop, Valentine, refused to stop marriages. He counseled couples that “from the beginning, God made them man and woman.” He practiced what he preached — marrying many couples. That irritated the Emperor, who had him arrested and brought to him.
I like this synopsis from Mystagogy:
“Why, Valentine, do you want to be a friend of our enemies and reject our friendship?” asked the emperor.
The Saint replied “My lord, if you knew the gift of God, you would be happy together with your empire and would reject the worship of idols and worship the true God and His Son Jesus Christ.”
One of these judges stopped the Saint and asked him what he thought about Jupiter and Mercury, and Valentine boldly replied, “They are miserable, and spent their lives through corruption and crime!”
The judge furiously shouted, “He blasphemes against the gods and against the empire!”
The emperor, however, continued his questions with curiosity, and found a welcome opportunity to finally learn what was the faith of Christians. Valentine then found the courage to urge him to repent for the blood of the Christians that was shed. “Believe in Jesus Christ, be baptized and you will be saved, and from this time forward the glory of your empire will be ensured as well as the triumph of your armory.”
Claudius became convinced, and said to those who were present: “What a beautiful teaching this man preaches.”
But the mayor of Rome, dissatisfied, began to shout: “See how this Christian mislead our Prince.”
Then Claudius brought the Saint to another judge. He was called Asterios, and he had a little girl who was blind for two years. Listening about Jesus Christ, that He is the Light of the World, he asked Valentine if he could give that light to his child. St. Valentine put his hand on her eyes and prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, true Light, illuminate this blind child.” Oh the great miracle! The child saw! So the judge with all his family confessed Christ. Having fasted for three days, he destroyed the idols that were in the house and finally received Holy Baptism.
When the emperor heard about all these events, he initially thought not to punish them, thinking that in the eyes of the citizens he will look weak, which forced him to betray his sense of justice. Therefore St. Valentine along with other Christians, after they were tortured, were beheaded on 14 February in the year 268 (or 269).
So, in the end, Valentine was killed for supporting marriage by an Emperor who believed Valentine but thought that had he not killed Valentine, people would think he was weak (sounds like Pilate).
Today, scholars argue whether the festival of St. Valentine has any connection to Lupercalia — in other words, whether the teachings and actions of St. Valentine, especially in continuing to deliver the sacrament of Holy Matrimony when the Emperor had outlawed it, had any connection to the raucous debauchery of Lupercalia. It will likely not surprise you to hear that the modern scholars tend to argue that they aren’t connected at all — as with many other things today, ignorance of anything reasonable since Babylon tends to be ignored in favor of empty freethinking. Even marriage, however, which has been consistently understood by all cultures, even in Babylon, to be a thing between a man and a woman is forgotten today. Rather than change the definition of marriage, note that Emperor Claudius just banned it. While many things in Rome didn’t make sense (like whipping increasing fertility), they still understood others — Claudius wanted marriage gone, so he banned it. Likely because he wanted the debauchery to become the norm (as seems to be the hopes of people today). He didn’t try to be cutesy and say it is something different.
St. Valentine was willing to risk his life preaching the truth of marriage. Today, we’ve sort of lost sight of what the Saint was all about. Yes, heart shaped cookies and cheesy “be mine” candies are fine,and quite welcome, but what about the rest of Lupercalia gone on about us? St. Valentine, pray for us!
This article, St. Valentine — Martyred for Marriage is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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About John B. Manos
John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benzinger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.