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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Saint Valentine

Saint Valentine
St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucile

At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city. In William of Malmesbury's time what was known to the ancients as the Flaminian Gate of Rome and is now the Porta del Popolo, was called the Gate of St. Valentine. The name seems to have been taken from a small church dedicated to the saint which was in the immediate neighborhood. Of both these St. Valentines some sort of Acta are preserved but they are of relatively late date and of no historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.


Saint Valentine's Day

The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus in Chaucer's Parliament of Foules we read:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers' tokens. Both the French and English literatures of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contain allusions to the practice. Perhaps the earliest to be found is in the 34th and 35th Ballades of the bilingual poet, John Gower, written in French; but Lydgate and Clauvowe supply other examples. Those who chose each other under these circumstances seem to have been called by each other their Valentines. In the Paston Letters, Dame Elizabeth Brews writes thus about a match she hopes to make for her daughter (we modernize the spelling), addressing the favoured suitor:
And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine's Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.
Shortly after the young lady herself wrote a letter to the same man addressing it "Unto my rightwell beloved Valentine, John Paston Esquire". The custom of choosing and sending valentines has of late years fallen into comparative desuetude.

Saint Valentine, who was martyred around 269 and buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome, had a basilica constructed in his name less than 100 years after his death.  Saint Augustine of Hippo delivered a brief sermon on Saint Valentine (Sermo 44 de Sanctis), focusing not on love or charity, but on patience.
     Triumphalis beati Martyris Valentini dies hodie nobis anniversaria celebritate recurrit; cujus glorificationi sicut congaudet Ecclesia, sic ejus proponit sequenda vestigia.  Si enim compatimur, et conglorificabimur.
     In cujus glorioso agone duo nobis praecipue consideranda sunt: indurata videlicet tortoris saevitia, et Martyris invicta patientia.  Saevitia tortoris, ut eam detestemur; patientia Martyris, ut eam imitemur.
     Audi Psalmistam adversus malitiam increpantem:  Noli aemulare in malignantibus, quoniam tamquam foenum velociter arescent.  Quod autem adversus malignantes patientia exhibenda sit, audi Apostolum suadentem:  Patientia vobis necessaria est, ut reportetis promissiones.
     The day of triumph of the blessed Martyr Valentine returns to us today in its yearly celebration.  As the Church rejoices in his glorification, so it proposes that his footsteps be followed.  For if we suffer together, we shall also be glorified together.
     In his glorious struggle two things must particularly be considered by us, namely, the brutality of his torture and the undefeated patience of the Martyr:  the savageness of his torture, that we may censure it; the patience of the Martyr, that we may imitate it.
     Heed the Psalmist railing against evilness:  "Do not imitate those doing evil, since they quickly dry up like hay."  Heed the Apostle urging that patience must be extended to those doing evil: "Patience is necessary for us, that we may earn the promises [of salvation]."