The Many Loves of Valentine’s Day

Remember Valentine’s Day parties in elementary school? I recall making “mailboxes” out of two giant hearts stapled together leaving an opening at the top, and then taped to the front of our desks. The rule was, if you brought valentines to hand out, you had to bring one for every person in the class– so that no one would be left out.

Before Valentine’s Day was celebrated with cards, roses, and chocolates, the church calendar had a feast day celebrating Saint Valentine. Just who was Saint Valentine? The internet is filled with articles trying to determine who he was, what he did, or even if there were three saints with the same name. One thing seems fairly certain: Valentine was an early martyr for his beliefs in Christ. It is thought he was executed on Feb. 14th in the year 270 — when Christianity was still illegal and punishable by death in the Roman Empire.

If we could have a conversation with St. Valentine today about love, he would likely ask us which kind of love? In the English language “love” is a multipurpose word in that we say we love our parents, love our school, love humanity, and even love chocolate. This would have been puzzling to someone of St. Valentine’s lifetime, because people used more specific words for various kinds of love.

In New Testament Greek, a language that was used widely throughout the Roman Empire of St. Valentine’s life, there were four types of love: eros (romantic love), storge (familial love), philia (deep friendship love), and agape, the deep, sacrificial love for all humans, all of humanity (the kind Jesus showed us). Valentine must have had agape love for Christ: “Greater love (agape) has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In the Hebrew parts of the bible (Old Testament), there are many words describing different types of love, at least ten different words. One is hesed (also spelled hasad), which is so difficult to translate into English that we see phrases like “loving kindness” or “faithful love” in English bibles. Hesed implies a strong, loving relationship that is also filled with deeds of love — not just feelings, but action:

what does the Lord require of you 
but to do justice, and to love kindness [hesed]
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

God’s love for us is often described as hesed — God is faithful, kind, merciful, and always doing deeds proving his love for humans. Jesus experienced the hesed of God and returned the same kind of love towards God the Father. Jesus also expressed the ultimate form of agape love when dying on the cross and rising to new life so that humans may experience reconciliation with God and eternal life. Saint Valentine participated in this agape love when he died for his faith in and love for Jesus.

When my grade school teacher told us to bring valentines for everyone in the class, she was teaching us, at a child’s level, agape love: let no one be left out, for all are loved by God.

Be Mine — collage by Julie McCarty —

Until next time, Amen!

2 thoughts on “The Many Loves of Valentine’s Day

  1. Melissa Miller

    I loved this. Too few of us remember that love isn’t the sort of anemic English word, but a word suffused with different meaning and actions. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s