The name Valentinus is made up of valorem, value, and tendens, holding, and Saint Valentine held on to holiness. Or the name is like valens tiro, valiant soldier. A valiant soldier is one who has never fallen, who strikes hard, defends himself bravely, and conquers decisively. Thus Valentine never failed by shunning martyrdom, he struck hard by putting down idolatry, he defended his faith by confessing it, he conquered by suffering.
Valentine was a venerable priest, whom the emperor Claudius summoned before him. ‘What is this, Valentine?’ he asked. ‘Why do you not win our friendship by adoring our gods and abandoning your vain superstitions?’ Valentine answered: ‘If you but knew the grace of God, you would not say such things. You would turn your mind away from your idols and adore the God who is in heaven.’ One of the people standing by Claudius said: ‘Valentine, what have you to say about the holiness of our gods?’ ‘All I have to say about them is that they were wretched human beings full of every uncleanness.’ Claudius spoke: ‘If Christ is true God, why do you not tell me the truth?’ Valentine: ‘Truly Christ alone is God! If you believe in him, your soul will be saved, the empire will prosper, and you will be granted victory over all your enemies!’ Claudius responded, saying to those around him: ‘Men of Rome, heed how wisely and rightly this man speaks!’ Then the prefect said: ‘The emperor is being led astray! How shall we give up what we have believed from infancy?’ At this the heart of Claudius was hardened, and he turned Valentine over to the prefect to be held in custody. When Valentine came into this man’s house, he said: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, true light, enlighten this house and let all here know you as true God! The prefect said: ‘I wonder at hearing you say that Christ is light. Indeed, if he gives light to my blind daughter I will convert.’ Valentine prayed over the daughter, her sight was restored, and the whole household was converted. Then the emperor ordered Valentine to be beheaded.
The emperor tries to persuade the saint into idolatry by promising his friendship, and by extension all the goods that come from friendship with an emperor. But Valentine brings up the grace of God and heavenly things, in comparison with which the idols of gold and silver and all human honours are nothing. So Valentine is asked what he thinks of these idols, and he propounds a particularly negative form of euhemerism. But we might also interpret it to mean that idolatry is a human invention, not a divine institution, and that so it becomes wretched and unclean. And aside from proposing this euhemerism, he also promises the emperor worldly successes if he converts. And the emperor is almost converted, but is kept back by custom. And again we see that princes are mostly not converted by divine preaching and the example of the saints, but rather by the tangible good which God does or has done or will do in their lives, or by wondrous miracles. For we see that the prefect is converted by the miracle of the curing of his daughter’s blindness, and by extension his whole household. But such men of action who are only converted by such signs are also easily held back by habit and custom, for such exterior signs reach less deep into the soul than more spiritual signs, so that the conversion is more shallow.
But another tradition relates that he was arrested and executed because he was marrying Christian couples and aiding them during the persecutions. And some say that to remind the young men he was marrying of their vow and the love of God, he cut hearts of paper and gave them to these persecuted Christians. Some even say that he left the daughter of the prefect a note saying ‘from your Valentine’, implying that the saint and the daughter had some kind of romantic connection. And the Carmelites say that this daughter, Julia, planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Some also say that bishops used to wear a purple amethyst ring with Cupid engraved, signifying that under Roman law they were allowed to marry people, and that St. Valentine thus also wore one. Others connect the date of this feast, the 14th of February, to the beginning of Spring, but this seems to accord with the meaning of romantic love, as in Spring all things come to mate and grow. Some also say that it was instituted as a replacement of the pagan Lupercalia, as we see also with some other Christian feasts. But it is also said that this festival was replaced by the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But all that can definitely be said is that at the latest from the 14th century and onwards this feast was associated with romantic love, and various practices for making couples arose with it. But it is thus also often compared to the coupling of the birds in Spring. Of course the vulgarisation and commercialisation of this feast is a separate matter.
Now the lore around St. Valentine and Valentine’s Day is very confused and muddied. But it seems to me possible to extract from it some kind of useful doctrine. For the heart is the seat of the intellect, but is also associated with love. And birds signify the angels, which are intellects or intelligences, but birds are also associated with love and Spring. And the almond tree is the first that blossoms in Spring, after Winter. And it is said that the Menorah of the Jews was based on the almond tree, and its seven arms might signify the seven spheres of heaven, which are the residences of the angels. And birds nest in the top of trees. And the almond is also called the luz, Bethel, the House of God, baetyl, Jacob’s Ladder. And so the almond might be said to be the primordial state or part of man, where man is truly like a little child, in that from this the entire man is developed. For the Jews also say that from the luz, whatever bone it may be, the man is resurrected at the end of time. And for man to be resurrected from this it would have to be indestructible – for it is also said that the Angel of Death cannot enter into it – and it would have to principally contain all the possibilities of development. But all this seems to refer only to the matter of the intellect, not to love. But love as it were flows forth from the intellect, for what is unknown is unloved, and so what is known is loved. And it is no surprise that this connection definitely arose in the 14th century, in the milieu of courtly love, of knights and dames and poets. For this caste does not retain the pure intellect like the priests and their contemplation, but rather knows through war and love, having to build from this duality. And perhaps this is why De Voragine also compares St. Valentine to a valiant soldier, to indicate this connection. And the daughter of the prefect might then symbolise the ideal woman of the knights and poets, not Sophia or Laura but Julia, the Julia of Romeo. And Julia comes from Julius, from Jovilius, devoted to Jove. And so it is not Wisdom or Victory that comes as a lover, but rather Devotion. And so we find the undying loyalty and devotion of the knight as his way towards the intellect, so that in war and love he still has peace, nay, by war and love gains his peace. For it is said that all is fair in love and war, that there is lawlessness in both these things, that they are really one thing, expressed in two ways. And this duality is proper to the chivalric poet.
Saint Valentine died about the year 270.
O glorious advocate and protector, Saint Valentine,
look with pity upon our wants,
hear our requests,
attend to our prayers,
relieve by your intercession
the miseries under which we labor,
and obtain for us the Divine blessing,
that we may be found worthy to join you
in praising the Almighty for all eternity;
through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray, then, O holy Martyr, for the Faithful,
who are so persevering in celebrating thy memory.
The day of Judgment will reveal to us
all thy glorious merits.
Oh! intercede for us,
that we may then be made thy companions
at the right hand of the Great Judge,
and be united with thee eternally in heaven.