An Encouraging Word — More Cupid than Valentine

How long, you naïve ones, will you love naivete? Proverbs 1:22

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day! Just as there is a lot of confusion in our culture around the word “love,” there is a lot of confusion surrounding the identity of St. Valentine who inspired this holiday — so much so that the Catholic Church discontinued liturgical veneration of him in 1969. Of course, that was not enough to stop Hallmark, FTD and Hershey’s!

You might be shocked to know that the church actually has about a dozen St. Valentines on its roster of saints. The disputed one, after whom this holiday is named, is known as St. Valentine of Rome in order to differentiate him from the dozen or so other Valentines on the list.

One account from 1400 describes this Valentine as a priest who was beheaded around 270 A.D. by the pagan emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed.

Several martyrs over the centuries, especially the second and eighth, carried the name Valentine. There was even a Pope Valentine, though little is known about him except that he served a mere 40 days around 827 A.D.

The most recently beatified Valentine is St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Spanish Dominican who traveled to Vietnam, where he served as bishop until his beheading in 1861. Pope John Paul II canonized this St. Valentine in 1988.

It might surprise you that St. Valentine (don’t ask me which one) is not only the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages, but also of beekeepers, epileptics and many other things. I am sure there is some connection between all the above, but I would not hazard a guess.

The biggest shocker of all is that our celebration of St. Valentine’s Day may have little to do with any of the St. Valentines, but a 1375 poem by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, entitled “Parliament of Fools.” In that work, he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day — an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to Feb. 14 as the day birds come together to find a mate. His poem may have actually invented the holiday we know today.

Because of the abundance of St. Valentines on the Roman Catholic roster, you can choose to celebrate the saint multiple times within a year. Besides Feb. 14, you might choose St. Valentine of Vitebro on Nov. 3 or St. Valentine of Raetia on Jan. 7. If you have a feminist bent, you might choose the female St. Valentina on July 25. Why not celebrate twice a year with the Orthodox Church, one St. Valentine on July 6 and another on July 30.

Our Valentine’s Day should probably more accurately be called “Cupid’s Day.” Cupid is the god of erotic love, attraction and affection in classical mythology. Victims of his bow and arrows are filled with uncontrollable desire. Our Valentine’s Day is more about Cupid’s antics than Valentine’s martyrdom.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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