The Mystery of St. Valentine
Today, as Hallmark and flower companies get richer, we celebrate Valentines Day. Like a number of modern holidays, Valentines Day purports to have its origins in the history of the church.
There is a catch though, church history is unclear on St. Valentine. There are at least 10 significant men in the history of the church who went by the name Valentine, or some variation of it.
The popular myth surrounding St. Valentine goes something like this: During the periodic persecution of the church under the Roman Empire one particularly harsh Caesar outlawed marriage. Believing in the power of love and the significance of marriage, a certain Roman priest continued to preform weddings and eventually was martyred for his rebellion. This sounds great. What a hero. What a Saint! Unfortunately, the story is unsubstantiated.
One of the greatest resources on early church history is Wace and Piercy’s Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. Wace and Piercy list 4 men by the name Valentinus or something close.
The first was Emperor Valentinianus. The Caesar from 364-375. The emperor seemed to be an earnest Christian, though he refused to move politically against heretical sects like the Arians.
The second is Valentinianus’ son, Valentinianus II (creative name, eh?). Valentinianus did not follow in his father’s footsteps. He tried to bring paganism back to the senate of Rome and died young.
Third, another Caesar named Valentinianus. Here again we have a Christian Caesar who created laws protecting Christians and fighting heretics.
Lastly is Valentinus. Valentinus was a very significant figure in the history of the Church. Though the exact dates of his life are unknown, we know that he ministered in the first half of the 100’s A.D. Valentinus is distinguished not for any type of valor or heroism, but rather for heresy. It is said that Valentinus was one of the first teachers to attempt to integrate gnosticism and Christianity in a systematic way. Many compared him to the king of early heretics, Marcion. Valentinus was written against by Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian.
So while there are some interesting characters from church history with the name Valentine, none seem to fit the template of the myth.
So will the real St. Valentine please stand up?
If you have any evidence for another St. Valentine, feel free to leave it in the comments.