A Brief Theology of Valentine’s Day
Before Hallmark, before long-stemmed roses delivered to your door, before heart-shaped boxes of chocolates with embossed “flavor maps” - there was St. Valentine. Actually, there may have been two. The history’s pretty murky, and includes legends about an early Christian priest (or was it a bishop?) martyred for (perhaps?) surreptitiously helping Christians to wed. So uncertain are the details, in fact, that in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church officially discontinued liturgical veneration of St. Valentine - though he’s still on the list of recognized saints.
But the holiday lives on. It turns out Chaucer, of all people, may be the reason why: the late-medieval poet penned “Parliament of Foules” sometime around 1375, including a link - embellished by more than a little poetic license - between courtly love and St. Valentine’s feast day. February 14, Chaucer wrote, is the day birds come together to find a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” A lovely day indeed - and as the poem’s fame spread, so did the day’s association with love, both avian and human.
But however fanciful these various legends may be, there’s a deeper wisdom beneath the whimsy. For centuries in Christian thought, the most prestigious book in the Bible - the “graduate school” of Christian spirituality - wasn’t Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, or the Book of Genesis, or the Psalms. It was the Song of Songs, an ancient - and pretty racy! - romantic poem about love in a world fraught with danger. Over the centuries, the poem was interpreted as an unsurpassed figurative portrait of the love between God and God’s people.
Not that God’s love for us is sexual - rather, the idea is that the intensity, intimacy, and delight of sexual love can be a kind of window, a sacramental parable, for God’s love. Divine love is tender and kind, immersive and ecstatic, full of longing and delight. It’s vulnerable, beautiful, gentle, and strong.
No doubt St. Valentine would approve :)
So this Valentine’s Day, think of all the love in your life - the love you feel and the love you witness; even the love among the birds of the air! - as a glimpse of God’s care for all creation. And if you’re especially perceptive (or especially mischievous), you can glimpse divine love in places likely and unlikely, common and uncommon. Even in a sweet little greeting card, an arrangement of flowers, or a “flavor map” embossed on a heart-shaped lid.
For if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the truth about God’s love is that it’s all around us, the Song of all songs, the Symphony of all symphonies, echoing everywhere...
Happy Valentine’s Day!
The SALT Team