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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day?

Martyred on February 14 in the third century A.D., St. Valentine is now our inspiration for a day of romance. Oh, wait, what?

Valentinius was a real person who died around 270 A.D. There are questions as to his actual existence, his acts, and even his martyrdom. But one account has him being beheaded by Roman Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. Thus the romantic angle. Except, of course, that not even the Roman Catholic Church is sure about that story. Valentinius -- St. Valentine to us -- is the patron saint of beekeepers and epileptics, apparently. No idea of where that connection leads. One suggestion is that Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval English poet, took some liberties with history and invented Valentine's Day using fictitious hitorical accounts. In 1375 he wrote about a feast day for Saint Valentine that, from historical records, had no prior reference.

Others trace the origin to an ancient Roman feast, the Feast of Lupercalia. February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno, the queen of Roman gods and goddesses and particularly the goddess of women and marriage. February 15th was the Feast of Lupercalia which began a fertility festival. Well, I'm sure you can get the connection of "love" and "February 14th" there ... except, of course, not to "St. Valentine". Well, apparently the Emperor Claudius II was engaging in wars for which he was having trouble getting volunteer soldiers. He believed it was due to their not wanting to leave wives and families. So Claudius cancelled marriages. Enter Valentinius ... and we're back to the beheaded priest.

CBN reports a different version. Valentine was encouraging couples to marry in the Church over against both the emperor's ban and the prevailing polygamy of the day. He was urging Christian marriage. He did it secretly because of the ban. In this account he was sentenced to a three-part execution which included beatings, stoning, and finally beheading. Valentine, then, really did lose his head over love.

Of course, there will be those today who will say, "It's a Catholic thing and we shouldn't be taking part" simply because it's Catholic. Others say, "We shouldn't be taking part" because, as everyone knows, Christians shouldn't celebrate holidays or, at least, "secular" holidays (over against Col 2:16). Dr. Stephen Kim offers 7 Reasons Why Christians Should Not Celebrate Valentine's Day, including the need to flee sexual immorality, it doesn't celebrate the person of Christ, it is too "Catholic", it replaces a pagan feast, we shouldn't need a holiday to remind us to love, we should avoid unhealthy peer pressure for our youth, and we should avoid unwarranted pressure on the unmarried. Well, that ought to settle that. Except, of course, it doesn't.

Bottom line, we don't know the actual origin of St. Valentine's Day or the actual person who inspired it. (Accounts vary and include three different men for that role.) As for the argument that the day was intended to redeem a pagan feast day, as Justin Taylor points out, "Judging by today’s customs I’d say the scheme wasn’t altogether successful." Having said that, today is Sunday, a day set aside by Christianity for the celebration of the resurrection ... repeatedly. What wondrous love! And love between husband and wife is celebrated in Scripture. While we shouldn't need reminders, it's not bad to have them. So for those of you celebrating the love of God and the love for a spouse, I say "Indulge!"

Let me say, then, in closing, I love my wife, and that love includes a component pointing to the profound mystery that is Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Beyond that, you're on your own.

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