Today is Valentine’s Day.
The commercialization of Christian holidays is nothing new; look at Christmas and Easter for ready examples of the masses interpreting religious observance as a need to go shopping. When in history did St. Valentine become such a romantic figure? Darned if I know…
In reality, we know very little about St. Valentine, other than that he was likely martyred in Rome. There are no fewer than three Valentines who were martyred in Rome in the first few centuries of the Church, so which St. Valentine it is whom we honor today is largely unknown.
The first mention of a St. Valentine was in the late 15th century, and he was noted for marrying Christians under Claudius Gothicus. You also read about coupling birds who choose their mates on February 14 in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules. That’s a lot of time to pass between someone’s martyrdom and their veneration with love poetry. Being martyred prior to the legalization of Christianity under Constantine, whichever St. Valentine we acknowledge today would have been living and marrying Christians at a time when swearing an oath to the Emperor was required of all civil ceremonies… which would have been anathema to Christians (“Our Father, who art in heaven” necessarily implies that Our Father is not in Rome).
St. Valentine, a political revolutionary? St. Valentine, a hopeless romantic who could not stand to see Christians burning with passion for one another? St. Valentine, a hapless priest who was strong-armed into marrying people and forging the appropriate civil documentation? St. Valentine, a criminal?
Happy Day commemorating a saint who (might have) actively practiced civil disobedience under an oppressive regime. Happy St. Valentine’s Day!