Valentinus: “More than a Hallmark Hero”

Valentines day. Red hearts on wooden background

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today couples around the world celebrate their love with flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and expensive dinners. Children exchange valentines and candies with classmates.

Unromantic husbands and boyfriends begrudge this day, dismissing it as a “Hallmark holiday.” And who can blame them? Last year, more than 20 billion dollars was spent on Valentine’s Day in America alone!

Perhaps this isn’t a good day for you. Single and divorced people rue the holiday, looking at couples with jealousy and disgust. Maybe you are in a relationship but dislike all the mushy-gushy, Cupid stuff. Whatever your relationship status, today is a day to celebrate.

Valentine’s Day is a time to be strengthened in our faith as we remember the example of a bold Christian from the distant past. His name is Valentinus.

Mystery Martyr

Valentinus’ exact identity is uncertain. There were actually three Christians named Valentinus in the third century: a Roman priest, an Italian bishop, and an African martyr. Some believe the first two were the same man. This makes sense given the context of his ministry.

Martyr for Marriage

Valentinus ministered during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (A.D. 268-270). Claudius struggled to defend the Roman Empire from barbarian invaders. However, his efforts to recruit soldiers were unsuccessful. This was likely due to the required time commitment of 25 years. Men simply didn’t want to be away from their families for so long.

So Claudius decreed that no more marriages should be performed in Rome. He thought preventing young men from marrying would incline them toward military service. Valentinus took a stand against this prohibition by marrying couples in secret. Marriage was instituted by God; therefore, the Emperor had no right to forbid it.

He was arrested for his illegal activities. Legend says he was brought before Claudius, with whom he shared the gospel. It also says he restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter while awaiting execution in prison. In any case, he was put to death on February 14, A.D. 269.

Before Hallmark

February 14 had been the day when Romans honored the goddess Juno. A feast honoring another Roman god began the next day. In A.D. 496, a church leader dedicated this day to Valentinus’ memory instead. What was once a day of pagan idolatry became a day of Christian heroism.

Long before Hallmark, Christians celebrated Valentine’s Day. Valentinus’ legacy inspires us to take a stand for God’s Word. He also inspires us to take a stand for our marriages. He was willing to die so others could be married. How much are we willing to sacrifice for our own marriage?

Almost half of marriages today end in divorce. Sadly, the situation is no better among Christians. Rather than imitating Valentinus’ sacrificial love, we are selfish and hardhearted toward our spouses.

Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who is spending today alone. They’ll remind you to appreciate what He’s given you! Let today motivate you to make your marriage the best it can possibly be!

Click here to watch Minute with a Martyr: Valentinus!

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