Who In the World Was Saint Valentine?

Is Valentine's Day really just something thought up by the greeting card companies, or is there more to the man, Saint Valentine?

His departure from this life certainly doesn’t sound like the ramp-up to the hearts, flowers, candy and greeting card celebration of love that we mark Feb. 14. Our St. Valentine’s Day observance brings to mind images of smiles, affection and romance, but…

The namesake of our celebration, officially known as Saint Valentine of Rome, was a third-century Christian priest who found himself in the cross hairs of an angry Roman Emperor. Father Valentine’s habit of promoting the spread of Christianity by sharing the Gospel brought a demand from Emperor Claudius II that Valentine renounce his faith or be clubbed, stoned and beheaded. The Romans of the early centuries of Christianity didn’t just want to kill Christians; they wanted to make it as horrific as possible.

Father Valentine made his choice. He would most certainly not renounce his faith in Christ. And, so, the emperor followed through on his threat.

Hmmmm. Doesn’t make you want to go shopping for roses or chocolates? Me neither.

So, how did Valentine’s life and death come to be celebrated like we do?

Well, there’s a multitude of differing theories on that! However, the most likely is that the emperor had issued an order that Christians were not permitted to marry. That’s right! Christian marriage was against the law. So, Valentine began performing marriages for Christians in secret—one of the “offenses” that led to his martyrdom.

Now, we’re on to something: Love and Christian marriage. Father Valentine’s life and death were centered in his love for Christ–above everything–even life itself.

What an example. It not only focuses us on the willingness of the Lord to sacrifice His life for us, but it reminds us that at the center of any Christian marriage–any Christian relationship–is sacrificial love.

When I visit with a couple in pre-marriage counseling, I always make sure to challenge them to try to out-do one another at putting the other first. The beginning of the end to many marriages is self-centeredness. The secret to a lasting marriage is sacrificial love–letting go of “self” to better serve the other. No wonder I Corinthians 13 finds its way into so many wedding ceremonies:

Is Valentine's Day really just something thought up by the greeting card companies, or is there more to the man, Saint Valentine?

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

These verses are not exclusively encouragement for couples but should be the goal of every one of our relationships. And, knowing the sacrificial, courageous life of Father Valentine helps you and I have a profoundly deeper way of thinking about Feb. 14.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure and because my wife is the editor here, I thought I’d mention that I’ve been to Hobby Lobby for a card and elsewhere for a gift. After all, you and I can happily borrow from the popular celebration to express awe and gratefulness to someone who would love, marry and stick with someone like me.

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@ Living the Good News

When Being Grateful is Hard

When Being Grateful is Hard

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10 comments

  1. Lois Flowers says:

    Wonderful history lesson … I had no idea the story behind Saint Valentine, especially the part about Christians not allowed to marry per emperor’s orders. Good marriage advice, too! Your neighbor at Missional Women …

  2. marthajaneorlando says:

    Thank you for the history about Father Valentine. I knew I had read it before, but was so glad to be reminded as the day approaches.
    Yes, all love is sacrificial. When we remember that in all our relationships, we can’t help but be God’s witnesses to His great love for us.
    Happy Valentine’s Day to both Deb and you!

  3. Mary Flaherty says:

    I love when Blake jumps in with a post! Thanks, Blake, and Deb too. Loved the story. Makes me dislike the day less knowing there is a deeper meaning behind it. But I still don’t like Valentine’s Day. To my husband’s probable delight, I enforce–every year–no flowers, no candy, no jewelry, no gifts! Show me every other day of the year, but please, not this one. Smiles and hugs!
    Mary Flaherty recently posted…Why Celebrating Lent is a Good ThingMy Profile

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