As my Valentine’s Day greeting to you all, I offer you Stella Marabito’s article in The Federalist, in which she draws parallels between St. Valentine’s martyrdom for defending marriage against the Roman state and today’s similar hostility to marriage. She also traces how Valentine’s Day has changed–from an emphasis on sacrificial love in marriage, to romance, to sex, and now to violence against women.
Read the entire article. Here are some excerpts. From Stella Marabito, Would Saint Valentine Be A Christian Martyr For Marriage Again Today?:
One of the many legends about Saint Valentine is that he was a Christian priest martyred by Roman authorities for secretly performing Christian marriages. We used to think of Saint Valentine as the good guy in that scenario. Today? Not so much maybe, given the hostility towards the idea of Christian marriage in our culture.
Saint Valentine would have committed a double offense by the time he was beheaded in 270 A.D. First, he defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage, a ban intended to create a larger pool of effective soldiers by preventing young men from becoming attached to wives and families. Second, as a Christian, Saint Valentine would have refused to bow down to false gods and the state, and taught his brethren likewise. . . .
As V-Day plods its cheerless way onward, we seem to be witnessing a revolve back in the direction of persecution. First, there was a celebration of Saint Valentine and sacrificial love, particularly in Christian marriage. Then the predictable focus on romantic love, much of it in the Victorian era that popularized the sending of Valentine cards.
With the sexual revolution we get a more direct focus on sex as the centerpiece of the festivities. Predictably, the sexual revolution then spawned resentment rather than love, now by using the day to raise awareness of wife-beating and other forms of violence against women.
We can especially feel an intense hostility towards the very idea of marriage that Saint Valentine represented: the union of one man and one woman, centered on Christ, and loyal until death. His crime was to bring a man and a woman together while the state meant to keep them apart. The marriages he performed were anathema both to Roman imperialism and to today’s worship of hook-up culture, adultery, divorce, and abortion, all celebrated in the media and pop culture.
Yes, I know that there are many saints’ legends surrounding St. Valentine and that their historicity does not necessarily measure up. The association of his saint’s day with love, romance, and marriage seems to derive from a line in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules, in which the poet cites the day as the occasion when birds start to mate. But what all sources agree on about St. Valentine is that he was a martyr, someone who was willing to witness (the original meaning of “martyr”) for his faith to the point of dying for it.
Let’s put these strains together. Today people think of romantic love and marriage in terms of self-fulfillment rather than self-denial, which arguably contributes to the problems discussed in the article. St. Valentine stands for the denial of self that Jesus talks about, the “daily” crosses of self-sacrifice (Luke 9:23-24 ) that, paradoxically, lead to “finding” one’s life (Matthew 16:24-25).
What does the denial of self that we see in martyrdom have to do with romantic love? With marriage? With every kind of love?
Illustration: Facial reconstruction of St. Valentine, based on the relic of his skull, by Cicero Moraes [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] via Wikimedia Commons