Editors Note: This column was authored by Dr. Pat Fagan and Julia Kiewit, of the Family Research Council
During the reign of Claudius II, a priest named Valentine was said to have been arrested and imprisoned for marrying Christians, who were at the time being persecuted in Rome. Other versions of the story say that Valentine was secretly marrying soldiers, because Claudius allegedly ordered young men to remain single, believing that married men did not make good soldiers. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. Whatever his actions, Valentine was later condemned to death and beheaded, around 270 A.D.
Pope Gelasius I established the Feast of St. Valentine in 496 A.D. to commemorate the numerous Christian martyrs who were named Valentine. In fact, the “romance” of Valentine’s Day did not enter the picture until the High Middle Ages with Geoffrey Chaucer’s, “Parliament of Foules,” and the tradition of courtly love.
The story behind Valentine’s Day does not bear much resemblance to the cupids and roses of today. If we wanted historical accuracy, our candy hearts, instead of “TXT ME” or even “BE MINE,” should say, “Will you die for me?” Though Roman martyrs may seem removed from our Valentine’s Day today, death is a greater part of love than our society acknowledges: some see marriage as the white, or bloodless, martyrdom – ask any happily married couple on their 40th anniversary.
True love is tough. Not the tough love we give to our children, but a love that is tough on ourselves: the gradual death of self to serve the Valentine. This love is different from the fleeting lust mingled with affection of today’s hook-up culture: Casual sex has killed Valentine’s Day. When young adults jump into bed after an average of three dates, the mystery of the other person dies before it is born. Intercourse too soon – before a deep personal knowledge and the commitment of marriage – diminishes the mystery, the pursuit of romance.
Among those who are chaste and intend to keep their virginity until marriage, Valentine’s Day brings with it the thrill of the unknown, and celebrates the possibility of the promise to give of the whole self, forever, in marriage. Giving a Valentine with intentions like these is totally different from the examples set in popular culture. Unjoining intimacy from commitment may temporarily fulfill the desire for love, but it is most frequently the prelude to eventual rejection.
Today, 54 percent of our 17-year-olds have parents whose Valentine tokens became meaningless through divorce or abandonment. Given the demographics and behaviors that are already in place, for babies born this year, around 70 percent will reach the age of 17, on the cusp of starting their own adult loves, with parents who have rejected each other. Divorce affects more people than just the couple calling it quits – it deeply shapes the psyche of the next generation and their ability to make commitments themselves.
St. Valentine is a tough act to follow, but a good model for today. Love demands death, and it is a debt that will be paid, be it through the life-giving self-sacrifice of marriage built on chaste romance or the death of love itself.
Be my true Valentine is taking on a new meaning in our time.