by Brian Phillips
St. Valentine was a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. According to tradition, Valentine, having been imprisoned and beaten, was beheaded on February 14, about 269 A.D., along the Flaminian Way. Now, that’s nowhere near a “romantic” tale, but his martyrdom was connected with an enduring and biblical kind of love.
Valentine undercut an edict of Emperor Claudius. Wanting to more easily recruit soldiers for his army, Claudius had tried to weaken family ties by forbidding marriage. Valentine, ignoring the order, secretly married young couples. When these activities were uncovered, it led to his arrest.
Furthermore, while in prison, Valentine continued to express his concern and love for his congregation. Being deprived of books, it is said that he would pluck leaves from the tree branches that grew near the window of his cell, and would write notes to the church, primarily encouraging them to obey the two great commandments – to love the Lord and love one another. His last note arrived on the morning of his death and ended with the words “Your Valentine.”
In 496, February 14th was named as a holiday in his honor. By this time Christianity had long been legalized in the empire, and many pagan celebrations were being replaced with Christianized celebrations. One of them was a Roman festival named Lupercalia, which was a pagan celebration of love. This holiday, some claim, was replaced by St. Valentine’s Day with its more innocent customs of sending notes and gifts and other expressions of affection. Perhaps that is true.
While many skeptically say that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a greeting card conspiracy, it serves to remind us that love is more than mere sentimentalism or overflowing emotions. It is a commitment that pledges my life for yours. And that is something to celebrate.