Valentinus is a saint recognized by Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. He’s particular to me because several of my great and great great grandfathers were named Valentine.
Born in 226, Valentine is the patron saint of the betrothed, of those with epilepsy and of the island of Lesbos.
Valentinus was a fairly popular name in Late Antiquity. It means valiant or worthy. There are over a dozen martyrs with this name, but the one commemorated on February 14 was buried north of Rome on February 14, in the Via Flaminia. I’m sure Rome aficionado Pastor Jim Giannantonio could tell us more.
Not much is known about Valentinus. He is listed as a priest (in Rome), presbyter, bishop (of Interamna) and martyr (in Africa, a minor Roman Providence somewhere south of Italy). The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates him on July 6. Valentinus does not appear in the earliest martyr lists. His feast is established by Pope Gelasius I in 496, who says his acts are known only by God. The early Christians had an egalitarian society. Women and slaves were welcome. They cared for the poor. They practiced charity, something Rome found demeaning. Their unwillingness to cave in to the power structures of the day was borne out of love. It often cost them their lives, living in these new communities.
Legend holds that he was martyred by Claudius II. He was arrested for helping Christians, which was against the law. It was said that Claudius took a liking to him until he tried to convert Claudius. At that time he was condemned to death by stoning. After beatings and stoning he didn’t die, so they beheaded him outside the Flaminian Gate sometime in the late 200’s. Some have suggested that Valentinus’ saint day grew because it was held on the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Pope Gelasius I abolished Lupercalia. Churches and altars have been dedicated to Valentinus.
Later, in Chaucer’s time, a time when court romance became en vogue, Valentine’s day became associated with romantic love. Chaucer wrote the first known reference to Valentine’s day as a romantic day:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
Many legends surfaced about Valeninus during the Medieval Period. By the 15th century, Valentine’s Day became a time for lovers to express love for one another with flowers and candy.
The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which, according to a Wikipedia article on Valentine’s Day, says,
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
“My very sweet Valentine…”
John Donne wrote:
Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine
This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.
—John Donne, Epithalamion Vpon Frederick Count Palatine and the Lady Elizabeth marryed on St. Valentines day
Who could not like a day set aside to express love?
Love, it is, that binds the gospel together. The Hebrew Bible centers around the Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength…” It is this passage that Jesus quotes when confronted, and asked about the greatest commandment. He replies, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself.” He reminds the disciples that love is the defining mark of the church: “By this shall all people know you are my disciples: that you love one another.” The most well-known verse of the Bible is about love, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul exalts love above faith and martyrdom. “Even if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing….” John points out that the person who does not love does not know God, in 1 John 4:7-8. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.”
The word for love in these passages is not romantic love (eros). It is, of course, agape. It is interesting to talk about the different kinds of love, and parse the different Greek words for love. But in the end, we must admit that they all have something in common. Love binds us together. It draws us together and, if it matures, it keeps us together. After I Corinthians 13, my favorite treatise on love is Shakespeare’s 116th Sonnet. For those new to this, read slowly and carefully. This is the best English-language connection of eros, phileos and agape.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.