Nowhere in the Bible is there mention of Saint Valentine’s Day and that’s because Saint Valentine wasn’t born until after the Bible was written. Of course, as every Christian knows, the Bible has a great deal to say about love and we’ll take a look at that in a while, but first let’s consider what we know about this saint.
Who was Saint Valentine?
That’s not such an easy question to answer. When you’re talking about things that took place so long ago, the third century, facts can get hazy. Valentine was a very popular name in Italy, at that time, and there are several Christian Valentines who were martyred by the Romans; or maybe there are several different stories about the same man.
According to the official biography, Valentine was a clergyman, probably a priest but perhaps a bishop. He was known for conducting marriages within the Christian community, and these marriages ensured that the men could no longer be recruited by the Roman army. Apparently, the Roman emperor, Claudius Gothicus, wanted only single men in the army because he believed that they made better fighters. Valentine is reputed to have given the newly married men, hearts cut from parchment, to remind them of God’s love and their marriage vows.
Although he is associated with the Italian city of Terni, it was while visiting Rome that Valentine was arrested and imprisoned. He is credited with having healed the blindness of the jailer’s daughter and according to legend, he signed a letter to her, ‘from your Valentine’. He came to the attention of the emperor, but when Valentine attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, he was beaten with clubs and stones and beheaded. His martyred body was buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia on the 14th February. The Feast of Saint Valentine was first established by Pope Gelasius 1st in 496.
Since the Middle Ages, Saint Valentine has been associated with the idea of ‘courtly love’, perhaps due to the influence of the fourteenth century poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who linked February the 14th to the idea that this was the day on which the birds of the air chose their mate. A number of churches throughout Europe claim to have relics of the saint and they are pilgrimage destinations to this day.
Saint Valentine’s Day in the 21st Century
It is estimated that Americans spent $23.9 billion, celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day in 2022. How do you feel about that? Is this Christians remembering a martyr or is this a festival of indulgence that goes against everything Saint Valentine believed in?
What does the Bible say about love?
As you know, the Bible has a lot to say about love: God is the God of Love. The kind of love that people celebrate on Valentine’s Day is romantic love, but the ancient Greek, in which the Bible was written, differentiates different types of love, so let’s take a look at what they are.
Philia – Brotherly and sisterly love, the love that Christians have for one another, the love that we have for others, the love that enacts care, respect and compassion. It’s the love for which Philadelphia was named, the City of Brotherly Love.
Eros – This is the type of love that is most closely associated with Saint Valentine’s Day, romantic, sensual love. There is nothing dirty or shameful about this type of love, its most famous celebration can be found in the Song of Solomon.
Storge – Familial love, the love of parents for their children and of children for their parents.
Agape – The greatest love of all, the unconditional divine love of God.
Perhaps the most famous words concerning love, in the Bible, are those that Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians. The type of love that Saint Paul is talking about here is agape, which is why the King James Version uses the word ‘charity’, a word which four hundred years ago had a much broader meaning than it has today.
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV.
How should Christians celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day?
Saint Valentine is a Christian martyr, who died for his faith in the service of God, but that is not how we remember him today. Saint Valentine’s Day has been completely taken over by pop culture versions of romantic love and sexual appetite. This part of human nature is a natural and necessary part of Christian life but not to exclusion of all else. Why not use Saint Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to reflect upon all types of love and above all, to give thanks for the salvation of God’s love.