When one thinks of Valentine’s Day one may think of love, hearts, passing out notes and candies, etc, but Valentine’s Day has a deeper meaning that goes all the way back to the story of a minister in 3rd century Rome- Valentine. Minister Valentine’s passion was love; hence, he was called the “Minister of Love” (Lyons).
Valentine’s Preaching on the True Meaning of Love
He preached many times the true biblical meaning of love. Today, we just have one word for love. We could say, “I love my parents,” “I love my spouse,” “I love cheeseburgers,” and “I love God.” Despite it being the same word, I hope we would love our God with a different love than we have for cheeseburgers.
Greek is a much deeper language than English, having three words for “love”- eros, philos, and agape. Philos is the love of a friend or family member, eros is the love for your spouse (one that should not be expressed outside of the marriage covenant), and agape is the unconditional love of God (giving everything and expecting nothing in return). Without God, one may be able to express philos and eros, but never agape because our flesh is naturally selfish (Lyons).
Because of Valentine’s immense sermons on love, many in Rome would come to him for marriage. Valentine would teach the married couples and his congregation what a true Godly marriage looks like.
Valentine Upheld Biblical Marriage and Refused to Worship Roman gods
In the year 268, the emperor Claudius II came to power. He proclaimed that he would not persecute Christians; although, there were some problematic proclamations he made. Claudius II was a harsh, tall, and strong emperor, also known as “Claudius the Cruel” (Odden). Claudius II was skilled in battle defeating any tribes that would try to invade Rome. Although, as time went on, more tribes were becoming a threat (Odden). Along with that, his army numbers were shrinking! He came to the conclusion that the main reason for this shortage was that married men did not want to be separated from their families fighting in a foreign country (Lyons). So, Claudius did the extreme- he outlawed marriage! Claudius made an edict, which became a law, that no minister could perform marriage ceremonies.
This obviously was a huge problem for Valentine. Valentine had to decide whether to follow the emperor or God. Valentine had the conviction that he must obey God rather than man, so he continued performing the marriage ceremonies. Claudius soon heard about Valentine disobeying Claudius’ unjust law and threw him into prison (Lyons).
Valentine stayed faithful and true to God, despite the dark valley he was in. He continued to worship his God rather than Roman gods and followed God’s word rather than Claudius’ (Lyons). Along with that, the church supported Valentine by sneaking in notes of encouragement. Valentine would return the notes, always ending in “From your Valentine” (Lyons). Valentine was eventually condemned to death by beheading and executed on February 14th, 270.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Bible, John 15:13).
Valentine’s Day Becoming a Holiday
200 years after Valentine’s execution, in 500 A.D., The people began to stray away from Godly marriage. Many began celebrating the holiday and festival of Lupercalia, which occurred on February 15th. The name is derived from the Roman God of love, Lupercus, and the Greek God of Pan. This event was horrific, filled with immense darkness and sexual immorality. An example of a pagan practice during this time was boys would kill a goat, cut off strips of flesh, and dip them in blood. He would then seek a girl he desired to perform a spell on so she would fall in love. He would take the bloody flesh and slap her with it- how horrific! If that is not bad enough, a “love lottery” also took place where all the names of the single woman were placed in a box. The single men would then pick a name and that would be their girlfriend for the year.
The pastors in Rome were aghast by this pagan holiday. Eventually they decided enough was enough and the Roman Catholic Pope, Galatius began to devise a plan to eliminate these horrific pagan traditions. He started searching in history for something around February 15th to replace this holiday with. This is when he came across the martyr of Minister Valentine. Galatius then declared Valentine a saint and made February 14th St. Valentine’s Day.
The “love lottery” practice was revised by the Church and replaced with names of Saints rather than single women. Whichever saint you would draw, you would pray for them in the following year.
Instead of focusing on the worldly practices during Valentine’s day, such as cupid, candy, and paper hearts, let’s focus on Valentine’s teaching on true Godly love- agape. Let’s rejoice in His love and overflow with it so others around us can experience God’s agape.
As John 15:12 says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (Bible).
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Lyons, Max. “The True Story of Valentine.” Celebrate Our Christian Holiday Like you were There, The Biblical Thinker LLC, 1 January 2012.
Odden, Cheryl. “The Story of St. Valentine.” The Voice of the Martyrs, 1 January 2007.