As the breezy wind sweeps across the Kentucky hills this morning, I cannot help but think of spring. For the first time in months, we began our day with the thermometer above 40 degrees—a sure sign that spring is in the air. And where there is spring, there is love. When spring is in the air, love is there, too. Spring and love are natural thoughts this time of year. In just over a month, spring will officially begin—birds, bees, flowers, trees, fish and even fleas (I suppose) will repopulate the earth with their supply. And today—Valentine’s Day—is the day we have set aside to celebrate romantic love. How fitting this day comes just before spring arrives.
Surely, part of the reason romantic love is celebrated on Valentine’s day is connected to the natural arrival of spring. As Tom Jones once sang, “Love is in the air in the whisper of the trees.” The natural awakening of love in springtime was connected to St. Valentine in the Medieval literature of the 14th century. So, in time for Valentine’s day in 1383, Chaucer wrote of the love-filled air in his poem, Parliament of the Fowles,
309 For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
310 Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
As far back as the 1300’s, then, Valentine’s day has been related to the “Love-is-in-the-Air” theme. Already, St. Valentine was venerated and celebrated. Chaucer simply made the connection to human love more prominent.
Before Chaucer, Valentine’s day already honored Valentine. Although there has been much discussion over who this St. Valentine may have been, the most consistent answer is that he was a Christian leader (Bishop? Presbyter?) during the reign of Claudius II of the Roman Empire (the late 3rd Century A.D.).
As the story of St. Valentine goes, he was committed to helping Christians in their faith at a time when the Emperor ordered just the opposite. Under Claudius, there was to be no aiding of Christianity or the Christians who practiced it. Valentine apparently thought his obligation to Galatians 6:10 overrode his obligation to Romans 13. Emperor Claudius in Valentine’s view had attempted to usurp his God-given authority by commanding people to disobey God. Such disobedience Valentine could swallow. So, he helped Christians.
In particular, Valentine is said to have helped young Christians preparing for marriage, a fact which explains why Valentine is the patron saint of young couples in the Roman Catholic tradition today. Even in his own day, it seems, Valentine had a love for love.
Valentine was arrested for his ministry. He was beaten and tortured, but, strangely, is said to have had a positive impact on Emperor Claudius, at least, a positive impact until he called the Emperor to repent and believe Jesus. Apparently, the Emperor did not appreciate Valentine’s gospel plea. When the Emperor could not get Valentine to retract his own confession of faith, he had him beheaded.
Valentine brings out all that is good in human love and, especially, all that is noble about love. He demonstrated at the cost of his own life what the value of love is. Love is worth dying for. So, it is obvious why we would celebrate love and Valentine on the same day. The celebration is more than an adaptation of nature’s springtime song. Though it probably includes the natural love emerging in spring, still, the love which drove Valentine to die was a much greater love than that which Tom Jones enshrined in music. The love which Valentine displayed was the greater love of Jesus Christ, the kind of love that is not afraid of death, knowing that death itself has been defeated, knowing that the grave is overwhelmed, knowing that the victory is won. Indeed, even marital love is supposed to sing in the key of Jesus, as men are instructed in Ephesians 5 to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
The sacrificial love of Christ, giving himself for his bride, the church, is perfect love. It is a love which gives itself over to the earthly and eternal well-being of another. St. Valentine apparently loved the church of the 3rd century this way. He gave himself for her good, and, as a result, he was killed—just like Jesus was killed for the love he showed his church. Truly, a greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life to love another. Thank you, St. Valentine for the Christ-like example. Happy Valentine’s day indeed.