The Origin of Valentine’s Day
WE ARE NOT REALLY SURE how it began. While there are a several ideas as to how it began, the most popular view of the beginning of Valentine’s Day centers around a priest who performed illegal weddings. The story goes like this.
The Roman Emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages in order to boost his army. Only single men had to enter the army. Consequently, too many men were dodging the draft by getting married.
In an effort to protect the sanctity of Christian marriage, a priest by the name of Valentinus performed secret marriages.
Defying the orders of the Emperor didn’t bode well for this “rebellious” priest. He was eventually caught by the authorities and for his “illegal activity” he was sentenced to death.
While he awaited execution, he was showered with notes from young couples extolling the virtues of love over war. These notes were supposedly the first valentines. Poor old Valentinus was executed on February 14, 269.
It was 200 years later, the year 469, that Valentinus was given a feast day that has come to be known as Valentine's Day. Interestingly, this day was designed to replace the pagan February feasts of love and fertility with the theme of Christian love and martyrdom. While, this may have been the goal for establishing Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t seem overly successful.
This leaves me with some thoughts for this coming Valentine’s Day.
We too live in a culture that in many ways works against the sanctity of Christian marriage. The Christian view of marriage is confined to the relationship between one man and one woman. For many in our culture, this is not just an antiquated view of marriage, it is actually offensive. To hold to the Christian view of marriage in certain circles will most certainly bring a measure of ridicule and strong opposition. And yet, I can’t help but admire the example that Valentinus has given us. In spite of the stern warning of the Emperor, he sought to preserve the sanctity of marriage. May we be so bold.
Secondly, this story does not just promote the sanctity of the “institution” of marriage. But it also upholds the “virtue of love.” It is a virtue that is captured for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So, the virtue that is embodied in the life-long commitment of marriage should be celebrated.
Finally, the virtue of Christian love is a virtue of sacrifice and giving of ourselves to others. While this self-less virtue can most definitely be celebrated in marriage, it can also be true of all of our relationships. Any time we put the needs of others before our own, we are reflecting the original intention for Valentine’s Day.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)
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