In the Western world, Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day for couples and lovers to give cards, flowers, chocolates, and other expressions of love and affection. However, it was not always that way.
Named for two different men, both named St. Valentine, who were both martyred in the 3rd century Italy, Valentine’s Day became a feast day of the early Catholic Church as it honored saints. The first St. Valentine was a priest in Rome who was martyred in AD 269. The second St. Valentine was from Terni in central Italy who was martyred in AD 273. There are many legends and stories that have cropped up around each of these men over the centuries. The Catholic Encyclopedia has also referenced a third St. Valentine from Africa who was martyred. On the Calendar of Saints (Lutheran), St. Valentine is commemorated by the LCMS as a martyr, but not a saint.
How did this feast day of martyrdom become a secular holiday to celebrate affection and love? There are several possibilities that lay claim to the origin of this day. Perhaps it comes from a pagan ritual around the goddess of agriculture. Another story asserts that on the eve of his death, St. Valentine wrote a letter to his jailor’s daughter whom he loved and signed it “from your Valentine.” A further legend says that St. Valentine cut hearts out of parchment to give to soldiers who were married as a symbol to remind them of their vows in marriage and of God’s love. This may be the origins of the widespread use of hearts on Valentine’s Day.
While the origins of Valentine’s Day may be murky, there is a definite connection to Christianity. The AngelicinCommunity, the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutherans, and many in the Eastern Orthodox Church give thanks for St. Valentine. He is one of the many early martyrs who died in Jesus’ Name. These martyrs, starting with Stephen (see most of Acts 7), refused to kneel to the Roman Emperor or his pagan gods. St. Valentine was killed about ten years before the birth of Emperor Constantine, who would later pen the Edict of Milan making tolerance of Christians possible. Constantine would later convert to Christianity and embrace the Christian faith.
Symbols became important for Valentine’s Day. The heart symbol is the design for little candies with words printed on them like “love you,” “be mine,” and “kiss me.” They point us to love on this special day. In the Greek language there are four kinds of love:
storge, eros, philia, and agape. On Valentine’s Day we celebrate three of these four: Storge (empathy bond), Philia (friend bond), Eros (romantic love).
The greatest love of all is agape (unconditional “God” love). Its symbol is not the heart. It’s the cross. The cross of Christ that reminds of us God’s everlasting Love who died on the cross to save us. Amazing Grace is the unconditional love that God bestows on us.
First Corinthians 13:13 says it best: Faith, hope and love…but the greatest of these is love. On this and subsequent Valentine’s Days let us love and remember God’s everlasting love.
One Minute is written by Pastor Ron Rehrer, Counselor for Church Workers of the PSD. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 949.433.5182