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Saint Valentine & History of Valentine's Day, Cupid, Cherubs and Christian Art

“As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”
Song of Solomon 2:2

Saint Valentine’s Day is one of the most joyful days of the year.  Lovers exchange their affirmations, and suitors often bolster courage to ask for a daughter’s hand.  I can hear the fireworks exploding!

As with many holidays, the modern celebration on February 14th has become mingled with worldly corruptions over the centuries.  For example, some immediately think of Cupid, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god of erotic love called Eros.  Along these lines people envision, a naked, chubby, winged boy shooting his bow and arrows.  The fallen man’s image of a cherub is far from the Hebraic depiction of these powerful, heavenly creatures as described in Scripture:  Ezekiel 1:5-21 and 10:1-17.  To the shame of previous generations, I came across several wood etchings that included the chubby, winged boys when compiling and editing biblical art for the Balancing the Sword books.  Even more frequently, the original Christian images depicted angels with wings.  You may be asking, What's wrong with drawing angels with flapping feathers?  Although seraphim had six wings (Isa. 6:2; Rev. 4:8) and cherubim had four wings (Eze. 1:6; 10:21), angels described in the Holy Writ never appeared with bird-like wings.  All angels appeared as clothed men in the biblical accounts.  To insure that Balancing the Sword taught biblically accurate scenes in the engraved illustrations, numerous images were digitally modified to remove the chubby boys and any form of wings.  Back to the history of Valentine’s Day....

There is a bit of mystery surrounding the origin of St. Valentine’s Day.  February 14th is commemorative of Valentine’s death.  The confusion regards which Valentine.  Valentine was a popular name in the first few centuries.  There were three Christian men named Valentine with deaths marked on February 14th.  One man named Valentine was martyred in Africa.  There were also Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni.  These two seemed to have been the same person and was more likely the man after whom the day was named.

According to early Christian martyrologies, Valentine was an Italian bishop who married soldiers contrary to the wishes of the emperor.  He was beheaded on February 14th around A.D. 269 at the hands of Emperor Claudius II.  Little is known of Valentine.  His illustrious story is embellished in the fanciful tales of the hagiographical work The Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, compiled about 1260 under “The Life of S. Valentine” and “The Life of S. Valentine the Martyr” (volume 3).

There is also confusion about how a day of romance was linked to Valentine’s tragic death.  According to Alban Butler (1756-1759), St. Valentine’s name was used to supplant the pagan practice of boys choosing girls on the February 15th in honor of the goddess Februata Juno.  This is uncertain.  Others speculate Valentine’s role as the patron saint of betrothed and married couples was perpetuated because it is about the 14th of February when birds begin to pair for the mating season (i.e., lovebirds).  Either way, it was not until about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that the feast day was mentioned in literature as being a day for sweethearts.  Now, millions upon millions of heart-shaped cards and boxes of candy are given around the world by the committed and the hopeful.

Paul wrote to the Romans, "One man esteemeth one day above another:  another esteemeth every day alike.  Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Ro. 14:5-6).  What's Paul saying?  You can celebrate special days or forego.  Giving grand recognition to your spouse on your wedding anniversary and Valentine's Day is acceptable to God (and is required by most wives), so long you "regardeth it unto the Lord."   That is, we are to live everyday in accordance with His will for His pleasure whether we account the day common or special.  We account Valentine's martyrdom as venerable.  "[O]thers were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35).  "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints" (Ps. 116:15).  However, we respect him as only a  saint in the sense that all Christians are saints (Ro. 1:7; 1Co. 1:2; 2Co. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Php. 1:1; Col. 1:2).  Therefore, we do not pray to a man vested with the honorary title of patron saint.

What does this mean for those whom "God hath joined together"?  Shower your spouse with compliments and flirtations everyday, not just on special days.  Give the impromptu physical affection frequently (Pr. 5:19).  Any Christian wife who will be a daughter of Sara (1Pe. 3:6) must not be "a contentious and an angry woman" day-in and day-out (Pr. 21:19) with the contrary expectation of adoring her "beloved" as prince charming on Valentine's Day.  Likewise, brothers who are called to "love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church" (Eph. 5:25) must not withhold comfort being "bitter against" (Col. 3:19) "the wife of thy bosom" anticipating that chocolate and flowers a few times a year will offset the difference.

There are a few days still before February 14th.  Now is a great time to refresh your thoughts in the flowery (albeit effective) language of the Song of Solomon.  The most valuable gift that can be given by any spouse is not diamond jewelry nor other tangibles.  The most valuable gift is the full commitment of your thoughts, emotions, body, and life—second only to God.  Now that's a formula for an outstanding marriage!

Rejoicing for all the godly couples out there who reflect the union of Christ and His church,

Allen Wolfe 

For more on Saint Valentine and Saint Valentine's Day see The Catholic Encyclopedia Volume 15 - Tournely to Zwirner.

Written on 02/06/2008.

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Balancing the Sword is a structured study guide for every chapter of the Bible.