Jim Denison on Who Was St. Valentine? And What Does the Bible Have to Say About Love?

A cultural and biblical reflection on transforming love

Consumers spent $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day last year. Not bad for a holiday named for a saint whose story is still disputed today.

Some accounts report that St. Valentine was a Roman priest and physician who was martyred by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus around AD 270. He was buried on the Via Flaminia, where Pope Julius I reportedly built a basilica over his grave.

Other sources identify him as the bishop of Terni, Italy. He was martyred, apparently in Rome; his relics were later taken to Terni.

These could be different versions of the same account, thus referring to only one person.

According to legend, he healed his jailer’s blind daughter, then left her a note on the day of his execution signed “from your Valentine.”

In AD 496, Pope Gelasius marked February 14 to celebrate St. Valentine’s life and faith. He is venerated today as the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, and, of course, engaged couples and happy marriages.

We may have the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for the holiday that bears his name. There is no record of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375 titled “Parliament of Foules.” He links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day, though this tradition did not exist until Chaucer’s poem received widespread attention.

This tradition eventually made its way to the New World. Factory-made cards, a product of the industrial revolution, became popular in the nineteenth century. In 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri, began mass producing valentines.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“There is only one path to happiness” 

Whatever our view of St. Valentine and the day that honors him, it is clear that loving others is God’s intention for us.

When Jesus taught us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), he echoed Leviticus 19:18 and the consistent teaching of Scripture (cf. John 13:34Romans 13:101 Corinthians 131 John 4:16).

However, our Lord’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires us to love ourselves. How can we do this?

It’s impossible to give what we do not have or lead people further than we are willing to go. Before I can love anyone else well, I must learn to love myself well. The key to this decision is learning to see myself as God sees me so I can love myself as God loves me.

However, such a view of ourselves is extremely countercultural today.

A fascinating Forbes article offers “Ten Lessons The Year 2020 Is Desperately Trying To Teach Us.” The writer encourages us to give ourselves grace, choose authenticity, befriend others, seek to live with gratitude and persistence, choose your battles, learn from science and expertise, be present in the moment, and stay connected. He also includes the statement, “Faith and hope are inseparable.”

Apart from this observation, however, his advice urges us to do what we can do to improve our lives and our world through our personal initiative and resources.

This self-reliant viewpoint has a long history in our culture. Socrates taught us that to “know yourself” is the foundational key to knowledge—not “know God” or “know divine revelation.” From then to today, Western culture has placed the self and self-knowledge at the center of our philosophical and psychological universe.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus (AD 50–135) advised us, “There is only one path to happiness, and that is in giving up all outside of your sphere of choice” (Discourses 34.4.39). He taught that the “proper work of the mind” is “the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent” (Discourses 4.11.6–7).

The Roman orator and tragedian Seneca (died AD 65) observed that “greatness of soul . . . can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable” (Moral Letters 74.12b–13). In As You Like It, Shakespeare has one of his characters proclaim, “All the world’s a stage / And all men and women merely players.” Our job is to play our role as best we can for as long as we can.

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SOURCE: The Denison Forum, Dr. Jim Denison

Adapted from Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at www.denisonforum.org. Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in February 2009 and is the author of seven books, including “Radical Islam: What You Need to Know.” For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum. Original source: www.denisonforum.org.

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