This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Every year on February 14th, this special day of romance is celebrated through the exchange of cards, chocolate, gifts or flowers with a special “valentine.” What we seldom hear mentioned is where the name of the holiday comes from. The day of romance we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century.
Saint Valentine was a bishop in Rome who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. The Roman Empire was collapsing from corruption within and also facing attack from several fronts, from the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians from Northern Europe and Asia. When Claudius became emperor, he was faced with recruiting many capable men as soldiers and officers to protect the empire from takeover from these foreign aggressors. He believed married men did not make good soldiers because they were too emotionally attached to their families. So to assure top quality soldiers he issued an edict forbidding marriage.
Not surprisingly, this edict met heavy resistance from the people of Rome. As a priest and bishop of the Roman Catholic church, Valentine refused to comply with the emperor regarding this ban on marriage. The church taught that marriage was a sacred union between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. So in spite of the edict from the emperor, Valentine began holding marriage ceremonies in secret. But as his fame in Rome spread, Valentine was caught, imprisoned and tortured. Valentine stood firm in his belief in the sacrament of marriage, and on February 14th, 270 A.D. he was executed for his stand for Christian marriage.
In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as “Valentine’s Day” to honor Bishop Valentine. It has since become a yearly celebration of love and romance around much of the world.
As in the time of the Roman Empire and Emperor Claudius II, marriage is again under attack. This year, as you celebrate this special day with the ones you love, reflect back on the history of this holiday. Remember, marriage is God’s plan, given to us as a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, a gift from God meant to complete us. As Christians, may we like Bishop Valentine stand without compromise for marriage. As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:3, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”