Like so many so-called ‘Christian’ celebrations, Valentine’s Day is rooted in Roman Catholic nonsense. The RC ‘church’ recognises three ‘saints’ who might be behind this February expression of love, though each is legend rather than established fact.
There is a third century priest called Valentine, in the reign of Claudius 2nd, who lived in Rome. The emperor decided that single young men made better soldiers, so he banned marriage! Valentine was said to have objected to the law and secretly married couples, against the edict. When he found out, the emperor had him put to death.
Another story is that Valentine was killed for helping Christians to escape from Roman prisons. Another legend says that Valentine sent the first greeting himself: whilst in prison he fell in love with a young girl who visited him. Before being put to death, he wrote a letter, which he signed ‘from your Valentine’. (Source: The History Channel)
Whatever the truth behind the stories, Valentine is depicted as a sympathetic, romantic hero, and so, by the Middle Ages, he was one of the most popular saints. Chaucer wrote, concerning the pairing of birds (which was said to occur on February 14th annually), “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s Day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” (Source: Chaucer: ‘Parlement of Foules’). For this reason Valentine’s Day became associated with lovers and later was consecrated to the sending and receiving of love letters (Source: Catholic Encyclopaedia).
In the Middle Ages, a Dame Elizabeth Brews was hoping for a match between her daughter and a suitor. She wrote to him: “And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine’s Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband, and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.” (Source: The Paston Letters)
Soon afterward the daughter sent her own letter to her suitor, addressing it “Unto my rightwell beloved Valentine.” It was, by then, custom to refer to one’s loved one as ‘my Valentine’, but the association with love and romance did not formulate fully until that time.
The date of Valentine’s Day was also closely associated with even earlier fertility festivals, which go back many centuries – so it is not particularly a Roman Catholic time. In ancient Athens, the period between mid-January and mid-February was called Gamelion, which was dedicated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera. Gamelion was the fifth month in the Attic Calendar.
In ancient Rome, February 15th was used for the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility. Goats were sacrificed by priests, and after drinking copious amounts of wine, they ran through the streets of Rome carrying the fresh hides over their heads and touching everybody nearby. Young women would step out, believing that a touch from the priest would help make them pregnant and give them an easy time in childbirth. On that day the names of girls and boys were put into an urn and were picked out at random; the names of a young man and woman were drawn out from the urn, and they would then become couples for the year.
It took until the year 498 AD for pope Gelasius to declare February 14th as the feast of St. Valentine. A long time after, in the 19th century, pope Gregory 16th donated supposed relics of St Valentine (which one??) to the Carmelite church in Dublin, Ireland, and this began a popular pilgrimage every February 14th. In an attempt to shorten the vast list of saints’ days, the Roman church cut St Valentine’s day from its calendar, so it is no longer an official Catholic feast day. (Source: Wikipedia)
The stories about the three priests are said to have been invented in the 14th century, but no-one really knows, for even the RCC refers to the accounts as legends. It was not until the mid-1800’s that Valentines as we now know them began to be circulated. By the next century reference to any ‘saint’ by the name of Valentine was forgotten, and so the practice (carefully marketed by greeting card publishers!) became what it is today – a commercial venture used by young people to send messages of love to each other, devoid of all religious meaning.
Interestingly, countries who have no idea about St Valentine have adopted the practice, so it is enacted without any religious reference at all (much as it is practised in the West, now). In Japan, chocolates are given by girls to men they like. To increase sales, Japanese manufacturers then invented ‘White Day’, allotted to March 14th, when men reciprocate with white gifts, usually lingerie. Other countries have similarly invented their own versions, which have no connection with Romanism or religion, but are all to do with commercialism.
So, where did Cupid come from? In ancient Greece he was known as Eros, but was called Cupid by the Romans. In both cases he was linked with love and lovers, but the link with St Valentine’s Day seems to be rather tenuous.
When Rome changed the feast day of Lubercus to St Valentine’s Day, she changed the drawing-out of boys’ and girls’ names to the drawing-out of saints’ names, and the saint drawn would be emulated for the year. In the 14th century the church reverted back to using girls’ names, and changed back again to saint’s names in the 16th century… but this failed! Some suggest that seven, not 3 men, were linked with the name Valentine. That was when the pope joined all the candidates together as one symbolic ‘Saint Valentine’.
Separate from the Catholic festivals was the English custom of drawing names from a Valentine’s box. Young men and women wrote their names on pieces of paper and put them into the box. Each took out a name (of the opposite sex) and the two would call each other their ‘Valentine’. (Source: Book, ‘1698: Travels in England’).
What, then, can we say about Valentine’s Day? It has been discarded by Rome and, in reality, young men and women know nothing of the Roman or the pagan origins. Today, Valentine’s Day is just a time to buy cards for those who men and women have a current fondness for, and few have any religious historical knowledge of the day. And even those who do, do not link the day with religion at all.
Overall, in modern times, Valentine’s Day is merely when card publishers make an awful lot of money! As Christians, should we be concerned? I see this day as similar in concept to that of Christmas Day, for neither of the days are based in scripture. Christmas is nowadays mainly a holiday period, when people rest from labour. Few have an interest in Christianity or attending church services (though many do, as a symbol of their waning ‘Christian’ background, as a kind of talisman!). But, Valentine’s Day has even less importance, if none at all, in religious terms.
If people wish to send cards to each other, that is up to them. But, if a Christian has any doubts, or has a genuine inner belief that cannot accept such cards, then they ought to avoid them. I have never sent them myself, mainly because I refuse to put hard earned cash into the hands of publishers who will make a lot of money!
One last word: I recently saw a rather tacky ‘Valentine’s card’ on the internet. A woman had made up the words ‘Valentine’ by emphasising letters in the text of John 3:16! It looked terrible and was not what any Christian should to be doing with God’s holy word. In this case, the Christian ought to be ashamed of herself – when it comes down to it, God’s word is to be revered and upheld as it stands, not played with and molested just to be clever!
© February 2005
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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