February 14, 2010 12:42:00 AM
Today is Valentine''s Day, the day for lovers. There are several myths about St. Valentine and the beginning of the celebration. A brief, superficial bit of historical research turns up the fact that there were possibly two St. Valentines, both of them martyred in Rome. (So there is a thought that there might have really been only one.)
Neither officially had anything to do with Valentine''s Day.
The prevailing legend has a priest, Father Valentine, defying the Emperor Claudius, who fought many wars, keeping conscripted soldiers away from their families for long campaigns. The men became so restive that the emperor just banned marriage altogether.
Father Valentine objected and secretly married many couples. He was caught, imprisoned, and finally executed. In the meantime, the lovers he had married slipped him sweets, flowers and notes. He is said to have fallen in love himself, with his jailer''s daughter. Before he was executed he left her a note signed "Your Valentine." The paths of love are sometimes dangerous.
In the second century there was a fellow named Valentinus who pulled away from the church in Rome, some say because the bishopric he sought went to someone else. He became a leading Gnostic of his time. At any rate I don''t think he is our hero.
Cause for celebration
So where did the observance really begin? Apparently it was in Rome as the feast of Lupercalia. We have become very adept at appropriating Roman holidays. The church was especially good at this. Look at Christmas and Easter. I don''t know exactly what people were thinking, but it seems to go something like this: "Everybody is celebrating anyway, so let''s just make it a time to celebrate our faith instead."
Today the observation of those two days is almost uniquely Christian, except for the modern secular aspects of Santa Claus and Easter egg hunts. But Valentine''s Day? It''s sort of difficult to make any kind of religious holiday out of it.
No matter. It is fun to observe it anyway. The saying, "Everybody loves a lover," makes it a celebration for all of us, even though it is specifically for sweethearts.
Richer in joy
Love is a funny thing in itself. It has a way of disseminating through many groups. It is like a beautiful day of gentle, warm sunshine, enveloping everyone, young and old alike, in its joy. Because there are several kinds of love (eros, philos and agape), it is neither limited nor exclusive.
For example, when we were expecting our second child, I actually worried for fear we could never love another one as much as the first. Nonsense! The second, and later the third, just increased the amount of love and joy in our lives. Love is multiplied, not divided. It seems to me that the more people you love, the richer you are in joy. Of course, it increases the pain, too; yet love trumps pain every time.
That''s why for millenia lovers have rushed as if magnetized into each other''s arms; and those who are not currently involved smile and look on.
Come to think of it, maybe in a way we have appropriated Valentine''s Day as religious after all. We can read in the Bible that God created mankind in his image, but in appearance we are certainly diverse. It seems to me that perhaps the only way we can resemble God at all is in our capacity for love.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.