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Who was St. Valentine?

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, this might be a good time to look at the history of the person for whom this day commemorating love was named.

Though St. Valentine is recognized as an official Saint in the Roman Catholic Church, there is a bit of confusion over who this person actually was.

Over the years, several people have been considered as a possible candidate for St Valentine, and part of this is due to the meaning of the name. In the Latin, the name Valentine, means strong or powerful, so it was a popular name for men and even women.

Of course, odder still, how did a name associated with power and strength become linked with love.

Well, there is one man who leads the pack for consideration as St. Valentine and that involves a person who lived in Rome around 270 AD. This individual sticks out because there are a couple of historical references that point to this man, giving him a slight edge.

This Valentine was serving in a religious capacity either as a priest or a bishop (one account refers to him as a priest living in Rome and the other as Bishop in Terni) who was martyred under the Roman emperor Claudius II.

Though the two lived in two different places in Italy, the similarities suggest it was the same person and these differences could simply be describing different stages in this person’s life, i.e. you had to be a priest serving in a parish before becoming Bishop.

Of course, during the time the church was still undergoing persecution by the Roman Empire. That would not change until a few years after Constantine became emperor in 306 AD.

The backstory to Valentine’s martyrdom has an interesting twist, and it may explain the love connection with our modern Valentine’s Day celebration.

Emperor Claudius II, (214 AD to 270 AD), did not rise to power through an aristocratic family, but rather came up through the ranks of the Roman army becoming a general and eventually Caesar.

During his reign, Rome was divided and under siege from various attackers including the Goths. Rome was starting to lose ground against invaders, so with his military background, Claudius was increasingly concerned that his army was losing its fighting edge.

He was convinced that this was happening because men were married or engaged and were more concerned about their families at home. They were not only unwilling to enlist, but maybe even played it safe when in battle.

Because of this, Claudius implemented a ban on marriages and even engagements thinking that men would be more willing to join the army and not be distracted by their loved ones at home, if they did.

According to tradition, in defiance of Claudius’ edict, St. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, particularly for those who were Christian. When Claudius found out about this, he ordered him tortured (beaten and stoned) and then executed by beheading.

Valentine’s Day was not implemented until the fifth century when it became a feast day honoring this saint. The Roman Catholic Church discontinued this in 1969, but continued to recognize Valentine as a saint.

As a side note, the Bible even recognized the problem that Claudius was seeing with married men, and exempted them from war for a full year after marriage:

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deuteronomy 24: 5 NIV)

As you will notice in this verse, a newly married man was not only exempt from the army but other duties ‘laid’ upon him as well. The duty being referred to here was actually a form of taxation.

Taxes could be paid in several ways, through money or produce. But as part of this taxation, men could also be conscripted to work on government building projects for a period of time.

We know that King Solomon implemented this form of forced taxation when he conscripted men to work on his new palace, the temple, the walls of Jerusalem and building projects in several cities:

Now this is the account of the forced labor which King Solomon levied to build the house of the Lord, his own house, the Millo, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. 16 For Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. 17 So Solomon rebuilt Gezer and the lower Beth-horon (I Kings 9:15-17 NASV)

Notice how the NASV says this forced labour was levied upon the men, because during this time of conscripted taxation, these men still needed to provide for their families. It was a taxation of time, because the men were unable to work in their regular livelihoods.

But a newly married man was exempt.

READ: Who Was St. Valentine? How a Martyred Saint Inspired Valentine’s Day AND St. Valentine, the Real Story AND St. Valentine beheaded

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