This Monday, February 14, we shall celebrate what has become one of the most widely celebrated feasts in the secular world and Christendom – St. Valentine’s Day. Some of us will be celebrating St. Valentine’s Day as a Christian fiesta, keeping in mind the stories of sacrificial love surrounding the figure of St. Valentine. Many others worldwide will be celebrating this feast as a day of appreciation and expression of romantic love.
Whichever way, the question about the origin of this feast, its historicity, and Christian authenticity has remained a matter of debate among authors, historians, and Christian theologians, especially outside of the Catholic faith. Whoever plans to celebrate this feast may want to know if the feast of St. Valentine is genuinely Christian and if the figure of St. Valentine is a myth or a historical person. Who was he if he existed in time and space like the rest of the saints? Did he die a martyr’s death out of love? What kind of love?
There are many stories and understandings of the figure of St. Valentine and his feast. After some research, I have found out that many people argue that this feast is one of those regular feasts of saints in the Catholic church – saints who truly existed in time and space. Some people who hold this opinion believe that the feast spread so widely beyond the Christian world in the late medieval times with lots of superstitious practices attached to it. One of these superstitions is the romantic love that this feast represents for many people all over the world.
Other people believe that St. Valentine’s Day is a Christian myth manufactured in medieval Europe to encourage fraternal charity and generosity to the poor among Christians. Several people who hold this opinion are indifferent about whether the figure of St. Valentine is a myth or a historical person. Some observe the feast as a Christian fiesta of sacrificial love. In contrast, others treat it as a secular feast of romantic love.
Still, people like Lisa Bitel, a history professor at the University of Southern California, have an interesting view of this feast. They believe that the feast of St. Valentine commemorates one of the three Valentines that lived in Rome, Umbria, and Africa in the third century. While this opinion argues that St. Valentine’s Day remembers one of these three early Christians, it denies that any of them is associated with the romantic love that the feast has come to represent for many people.
However, there is a common belief that the saint or saints associated with St. Valentine’s Day died as martyrs. Their association with romantic love may be a superstition or a misunderstanding of the love associated with their martyrdom. But the popular understanding of St. Valentine’s Day among Christians in many parts of the world as a commemoration of sacrificial love should be highly encouraged. This is because martyrdom is one of the highest expressions of love – that love, which is the primary vocation of every Christian. The expression of this sacrificial love should be seen in our lives and actions as Christians.