Valentine’s Day is typically associated with romantic love (eros), the Roman god Cupid pictured as a cute, chubby, flying angel-like being shooting arrows of hearts, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
There’s more to Valentine’s Day than what one finds on a greeting card, however, even though the history remains murky.
There were several men by the name Valentinus in ancient Rome. One for whom we have records was a Christian-Gnostic priest and theologian, born in Egypt around 100 AD, who later preached and wrote in Rome under Pope Hyginus. His Gnostic teachings likely influenced the later theologian Arius, namesake of the most famous heresy in the Catholic Church—the Arian Heresy—which asserted that Jesus was separate from and therefore inferior to the One God of the Universe.
Catholics would later redress the Arian Heresy with the Nicene Creed, which asserted that Jesus was separate from and equal to and same as the One God of the Universe, all at the same time, because Jesus was “begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father.”
NO HEARTS AND CANDY FOR HERETICS
This heretical teacher of a heretical teacher, however, is not the Valentine we honor today with hearts and candy.
Another, later Valentinus was likely born sometime in the early 3rd Century AD and lived under Emperor Claudius (d. 270 AD). Claudius, born with all kinds of physical infirmities, ascended to the throne of the Roman Empire after his Emperor-nephew, the bizarre and cruel Caligula, was assassinated by one of his own guards.
Claudius, as Emperor, executed this later Valentinus. Why? Because this later Valentinus dared to marry Christian couples in direct violation of Roman law, refusing to abandon his religious faith or his religious duty, as he understood them.
It seems the Roman government, like many governments after it, was quite interested in controlling who could and could not marry and how people would live their lives. Valentinus, fortified by religious conviction, pushed back against that government control. The price of which was death at the hands of government bureaucrats.
This happened early in Christian history when those in the Roman government viewed Christians as a threat to their ruling power. Christians, after all, called “King of Kings” someone other than Caesar. But not long after, the Roman government figured out that Christian soldiers would fight bravely, and even die, if they believed they were fighting for a Christian cause. That’s when Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, around 312 AD, effectively transforming every Roman cause into a Christian cause.
In the late 5th Century, after bestowing sainthood on Valentinus, the Catholic Church replaced the mid-February Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia—which honored the god-like, faun-being Lupercus—with Saint Valentine’s Day.
THE COURAGE TO DEFY AN EMPIRE
While there remains much that is unknown about this later Valentinus, the origin of his name is interesting: “Valens,” in Latin, meant strength, fortitude, vigor. Only a man with valens, I suppose, would challenge and openly defy a government he viewed as unjust, especially a government as big and powerful as the Roman Empire.
So, go ahead and talk sweet nothings to your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day. Send pictures of babies shooting cute little heart arrows of love and desire. Eat chocolates until your stomach hurts. But let us not forget that what made this day worth commemorating was nothing less than a revolutionary act of defiance against a government that sought to control the persons and confiscate the property of those who lived under it.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Krannawitter-style.