Ah, Valentine’s Day. Every February it slinks into view yet again. Greeting card and confectionery executives twirl their sinister mustaches while hugging their piles of cash. Just the thought of the mass profits from the sale of cheap cards and low-grade chocolates sends them into a near-ecstatic state of euphoria.
It is that time of the year when anatomically-incorrect hearts and chubby, winged babies with archery equipment (What kind of irresponsible parent gives a baby a bow and arrows?) permeate every department and drug store we seem to step foot in. Various shades of pink and red sear our retinas, threatening to dissolve any ability to see the cool end of the color spectrum.
And then there are the romantic comedies. Those horrid heresies of cinema that take all the beauty, terror, and gravitas and boil it down into a 2-hour long sitcom with an ending you already know before the movie even starts. Needless to say, I’ll likely be seeing Deadpool.
Yes, Valentine’s Day truly is a dull, disconcerting, and often demoralizing day for those of us who are still waiting to be called up from the relationship bullpen. Whatever the circumstances that have kept us romantically unattached, for many of us who always seem to be single on Hallmark’s favorite holiday, February 14th feels more like gauntlet to run than a day to enjoy.
Of course, I could go into a detailed examination of the idolatry of romantic love and over-sexualization that permeate our culture. I could turn to C. S. Lewis’ classic study on the different types of human loves—The Four Loves—and explain how the love of friends is a different, yet equally important, form of love that should be celebrated just as much as romantic and marital love is.
But all you loyal Seedbed readers know all that already (if you don’t, then you should read this fantastic piece by Taylor Zimmerman). Instead I am going to simply talk about how I plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day sans any sort of romantic interlude.
I plan on celebrating the somewhat historic St. Valentine of the past.
While the actual historical data about St. Valentine is slightly hazy (there are at least three Valentines associated with February 14th in various accounts), one of the most widely known stories is that Valentine was a Christian priest in Rome during the reign of the emperor Claudius II (also known as Claudius Gothicus), who was such a cheery guy that he gained the nickname “Claudius the Cruel.” True to his nickname, Claudius had involved Rome in several bloody and unpopular military campaigns. Now, as any good emperor knows, the first thing you need in order to carry out a campaign is an army. However, few Roman men wanted to fight in conflicts that they did not believe in. Claudius believed that Roman men refused to fight because of their attachments to their wives and families. So, Claudius—being the swell guy that he was—banned all marriages and engagements. Like I said, a cheery guy.
According to the hagiography (a fancy term for writings about saints), Valentine saw how terribly unjust a decree this was and defied Claudius’ mandate. Valentine continued to marry couples in secret, thereby romantically sticking it to the man. Sadly, Valentine was found out and was brought before the authorities for judgment. For defying Claudius’ mandate and essentially committing treason, Valentine was sentenced to be beaten with clubs and then finally decapitated on February 14th circa 270 A.D. Claudius the Cruel indeed.
So, you may be asking yourself, what does this interesting tidbit about Valentine of Rome have to do with how I as a single guy will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year (barring, of course, the unforeseen circumstance of actress Daisy Ridley calling me up and asking me out)? Well, the story reminds me that love in all its varied forms is powerful. Indeed, as a Christian, I believe the love of the Triune God to be the undergirding, metaphysical Ground and Source of all existence. Further still, it reminds me that love ultimately triumphs. We remember St. Valentine as a bastion of love and justice while Claudius II’s name is an example of cruelty. St. Valentine may have been killed, but it is he who is remembered as a saint and Claudius who is remembered as a tyrant. And it is Valentine who will get his head and body back anew on that last Day of Days.
So here’s to St. Valentine of Rome. May his memory and example spur all of us to love those near and dear to us, whether we are single, dating, or married.
Oh, and by the way, if anyone has any Valentine’s Day chocolates they don’t want, I do accept donations.
Image attribution: karandaev / Thinkstock