Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Valentine

Feb. 14; A.D. 268

Wheatly writes of St. Valentine, "He was so famous for his love and charity that the custom of choosing valentines upon his festival, which is still practised, took its rise from thence." But we cannot be at all sure that it was really in this way the custom came about. The 14th of February has been a festival from very old times, from before the days of Christianity. It was kept as a feast by the heathens, in honour probably of some of their gods. Then, when the Christian Priest, St. Valentine, so nobly suffered for his faith and for the deeds of love and charity in which he had spent his life, the Church ordered that the 14th of February, till then a pagan holiday, should be observed by Christians in remembrance of the brave martyr. Perhaps it was the day of his birth, perhaps that of his death, we do not know. It may be that it was only a day near to one of these dates, which the people were accustomed to keep as a holiday, and which the Church was glad to dedicate to a Christian martyr, and forget that those around them kept it in honour of the idols they worshipped. The pagans, it is said, were used to write each other's names upon shells or small pieces of wood, and then to draw for partners for their dances on this day. The Christians, instead, in keeping their festival, wrote down the names of special saints, and sent words of loving Christian greeting to each other; and probably thinking of all the loving words and deeds of the martyred Priest, called their missives "valentines."

St. Valentine lived at Rome in the time of the Emperor Claudius II. He was a Priest, and his life was one of constant self-devotion and Christian love. He spent all his time in doing deeds of mercy and charity, and in giving help and refuge to the poor persecuted followers of the faith of JESUS, for those were evil days for all Christian people.

The Emperor heard of him and commanded that Valentine should be brought into his presence.

"Why dost thou not worship as we do?" he asked. "Why dost thou refuse to bow before the gods of the Romans?"

The Christian Priest looked calmly and without fear upon the Emperor—upon the man who had power to condemn him to immediate death, to have him torn to pieces by the wild beasts or burnt to cinders at the stake. Unflinching, St. Valentine stood there before Claudius, and speaking out boldly and bravely gave reasons for his faith.

The Emperor listened. He was struck by the Priest's bold words, and by his clear reasoning. It was the story of St. Paul and Agrippa repeated: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."

"Might not this Christian Priest be right after all?" Claudius asked himself. "Was it not possible that what he and the Romans were used to call gods were indeed but low, vile creations of man?"

But he feared to say openly what he thought; only instead of ordering St. Valentine to be tortured or put to death, he gave him into the charge of a judge named Asterius, with whom he was to live, shut up, indeed, but not harshly treated.

Now the Priest could no longer continue his works of mercy, but he could still pray. Day and night he entreated GOD for the poor Christians from whom he was parted, and also for the Emperor and all those who were still in the darkness of heathenism, beseeching the FATHER that they might learn to know the True Light, JESUS CHRIST, His SON.

One day the judge Asterius heard him thus praying. "What is this thou sayest?" he asked. "What meanest thou by the words, 'JESUS CHRIST made Man,' and 'the True Light?'"

"I mean that JESUS, the SON of GOD the FATHER Almighty, became Man for our sake; and not only is He the True Light, but the only Light. He lighteth every one that cometh into the world."

"I will test thy words," replied Asterius. "I have a little daughter who has been blind for two years. If by thy GOD thou canst make her darkness light and cure her blindness, I will at once believe that JESUSCHRIST is the Light of the World—that He Whom thou dost worship is GOD alone."

The legend tells us that GOD enabled Valentine to cure the young girl. He laid his hands on her, and prayed; perhaps he had some special skill which he was allowed to use. However this may be, in a short time, we are told, the child had her sight restored, and saw clearly.

Then Asterius and his wife threw themselves, overjoyed, at the feet of the saint, and cried, "We believe, we believe! what must we do to be saved?"

St. Valentine told them to break in pieces the images of their false gods, to abstain for a time from worldly pleasures and rich living, to forgive all those they looked on as their enemies, and then to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

Not only the father and mother of the maiden, but the whole household of Asterius followed the counsels of St. Valentine. They became known as a Christian family. Then they were called upon to suffer for their faith. Willingly they gave up their lives, as so many Christians had done before them.

St. Valentine suffered, too, in a very short time.

Some years later, when the fierceness of persecution had ceased, and the "noble army of martyrs" in heaven were rejoicing over the comparative peace on earth, a church was built at Rome in remembrance of his good and holy Christian life.