Heart-shaped chocolates, gargantuan teddy bears, and pink paper hearts do little to represent the true tale of St. Valentine, a clerical insurgent, secret officiant, and lionhearted martyr.

In fact, if we understood his story, Valentine’s day would be much more than a commercial holiday. Valentine’s day would be a celebration of agelong Christian resistance to overbearing rulers.

Valentine was a Roman priest in the third century under Claudius II, an emperor who, like all authorities of his time, was strongly antagonistic toward the Christian minority. Believing that single men made for better soldiers, the emperor banned young men from marriage in order to conscript them to service.

Pastors and spiritual leaders today would most likely refuse to call this edict persecution, quote Romans 13 which says to “be subject to the governing authorities,” and condemn church members who defied the mandate.

But Valentine was wiser.

The saint understood God’s law, which holds marriage between one man and one woman in high esteem. The saint understood God’s story, which began with a man and his wife in a garden and ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb. The saint understood God’s love, which calls us to join to a spouse in devoted communion for our own sanctification and for the procreation of children, who themselves bless society.

So, the saint decided this edict was to be ignored. Not only ignored, but actively subverted.

Valentine married countless couples in secret knowing full well the penalty for such defiance was death. Indeed, this was his fate when eventually he was discovered.

After being tossed in jail and tortured, he was beheaded for his faith and joined the cloud of witnesses.

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Valentine’s Day was established a hundred years later after the reign of the Christian emperor Constantine the Great.

Like many other Christian holidays, February 14th was originally the date of a pagan festival, called Lupercalia, which the church “baptized”. While Lupercalia was a festival celebrating the goddess of feverish love, Valentine’s day is most properly a celebration of dutiful love.

Love that our culture has lost its way toward.

In a land where marriage is dismantled and disregarded, not by emperor’s decree, but by each man’s own folly, the message of St. Valentine is vital.

We could abandon the rich history of Valentine to the filing cabinet of history, trading it in for a decreasing marriage rate, an increasing divorce rate, and a Washington Post article titled “How asexual and aromatic people make Valentine’s Day their own.”

Or we could return to the Judeo-Christian roots of our nation and consider this Valentine’s day the man who believed marriage and orderly love were worth dying for.

Catie Robertson is an intern with the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Government.

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