Sanctus Valentinus: Behind the Verse

Oh, Saint, to your name, thereof,
My question is this, what is love?

On a warm summer’s day, sunshine beaming down on country fields, and in the vibrant spring of my life, many, many years ago now, I once spoke these fateful words to a certain girl I liked very much: I don’t know what love is. What precipitated this sad half-truth was a silly conversation, strewn with longing undertones and yearning unsaids. Half-truth, I call it, and still do, even from the moment the words slipped from my mouth. I knew I could love, I believed I had been doing it for some time, but with such an abstract term, complicated by our overuse, I still wondered at, and was haunted by, the question: What is love?

Many years thence, in fact Valentine’s Day, 2013, it came into my mind to write something for the day, especially. Being a major celebratory day, I googled the day and clicked over to the Wikipedia article. From there I gleaned the history of the legendary man behind the day, Saint Valentine, himself. I was immediately taken by the fact that this holiday, celebrating love, was rooted in Christian tradition. But, of course, how appropriate, I thought. Where things get interesting, however, is the article section on Saint Valentine, himself, and both the history and legend surrounding him, and so I wrote the poem, Sanctus Valentinus. Have a read. Following, I will attempt to provide the reasonings and rationale behind the content of the poem.

Sanctus Valentinus

The title, two words, Sanctus and Valentinus, firstly indicates a hallowedness to the writing (‘sanctus’ originating from the thought “Holy, Holy, Holy”) but also to the man, himself, Saint Valentine, here represented by the Roman pronunciation Valentinus, to aid in the cadence of the title. Thus, one might translate the title Holy Valentine and this was my intent both conferring holiness upon the sainthood of Saint Valentine and conferring holiness as on a ‘valentine’ we might gift to each other in this day and age.

Oh, Saint, can you hear my voice from ages past?
I hope against hope because your voice seems to be the last.

Oh, Saint, may I ask a question?
Will you proffer a suggestion?

Oh, Saint, to your name, thereof,
My question is this, what is love?

These first three verses introduce the subject, Saint Valentine; the struggle, hope in a world drowning out real love with conflicting messages; and the question, simply put, asking what is love, indeed?

Oh, Saint, what is love?
They ask it, continually, both from down below and from up above.

Oh, Saint, this is what you were known for.
That je ne sais quoi d’amour.

Oh, Saint, did you show in fiery flames of passion?
Or walk about court to the latest fashion?

Oh, Saint, did you caress with fingers tender?
Or lightly kiss her form so slender?

Oh, Saint, was your game one of gifts?
Or was your talent healing rifts?

Oh, Saint, were miracles your fame?
Or were good deeds the duty of your name?

Here I ask of the Saint why we think of him, and not others, in terms of love. Surely, he must have peculiar adeptness at some form whereof his peers took note and learned from him.

Like an exotic Parisian lover, or a flamboyant artisan, or the intimacy of intimate touch, he must have shown in some way what love was for us to remember him so. It seemed, and still seems, to me that very few of us understand what love actually is. Is it the mania of ‘in love’ love? Or the abandoned restraint of ‘free love’? Or the presumed precursor of ‘self-love’? When I continued to read of the Saint’s life it seemed to me no one was in a better position to answer that question save Christ, Himself, but in a world that has forgotten why Valentine’s day is perhaps Saint Valentine might reach us yet.

Oh, Saint, not in these, not in these?

Oh, Valentinus, not in these, not in these.

The things we thought were displays of love, as I continued to read, I learned were not really the thing itself. Truly, and most sadly in our fallen world, Valentine’s love was other than these.

Oh, Valentinus, you married Christians in defiance,
and aided and abetted, risking your alliance.

Oh, Valentinus, you wouldn’t let it rest,
so the judge put you to the test.

Oh, Valentinus, your restored a little girl’s sight,
and for many more won their freedom from the night.

Oh, Valentinus, that wasn’t enough,
and you continued the way through smooth and rough.

Oh, Valentinus, you met your end,
and they took your head when you wouldn’t bend.

Per the history and legend of the man, we learn there may have been many early Christian martyrs with the name, and here we come across our first hint that Valentine’s love was some other thing. We also read that he aided early Christians in marriage and ministered to persecuted Christians under the Roman empire.  We read that he healed his jailer’s blind daughter and gave her sight. Finally, when he wouldn’t forsake his faith, he was executed. Surely these tragic and magnificent actions are themselves the very definition of love?

Oh, Valentinus, not even in these, not even in these?

Oh, Saint, not even in these, not even in these.

But, nay, as we continue to view the man’s life, not even in these.

Oh, Saint, I see the needle thread.
It joins all these in woven spread.

Oh, Saint, you risked of your will,
to do love, to act love, that was your skill.

Oh, Saint, why would you do such a thing?
Why such pain and grief to bring?

Oh, Saint, you shame me with your light,
how am I to live so bright?

Here, I begin to see that actions alone could never encompass and sustain love. Actions can be noble, and actions can be good, but intention, will, may not nor may good intention remain strong through years and ages.

In Saint Valentine’s life, however, there is a thread that one begins to see. In all his actions, historical or legendary, we see a veiled thing, that thing behind all his wills and wonts. He didn’t just display love, nor attract love, nor consume it, rather he acted love, he lived love, that was his skill. But why? And how? If this is love then how can I ever hope to do the same when I feel every pull of the heart in every other direction but this.

Oh, Saint, but I do see, I do see the needle thread.
In order for me to live that bright, He went through a horrible dread.

Oh, Saint, your faith was key!
It was the thing, it was Jesus’ victory!

Oh, Saint, what then is love…
I see now, I see now…

Oh, Saint, what then is love?
What then is love but a willed sacrifice, and its source from above!

What, then, was the answer? How to live a life of love when we know from infancy our tendency to do otherwise? In viewing Saint Valentines life we find his faith was key. Saint Valentine was a Christian, a ‘little Christ’ or Christ follower, and Christ, Jesus Christ, God Himself, was born of man to live a perfect life of love and to die a wrongful death of sin, our sin, that we, Christians, His Bride, could live with Him forever. What greater love is there than this that a man lay down his life for his friends? (John 15:13b)

Actions can look like love and yet deceive. What lies behind the action? What is the intention of the heart and the motivation of the mind? Love is not only a good feeling or a clear conscience or a begrudged service. That would diminish love to a petty human experience that comes and goes as with our tastes and distastes. What we mean by love and what we want from love is entirely different though fears and worries of life weary us to accept lesser forms.

In Christ’s actions in life and death we are rightfully ashamed because all of our choices and motivations are seen for how self-righteous and self-centered they really are. We also see that Christ willingly died to reconcile to Him such as us, such as we are. This is the key. In Jesus’ victory we serve and sacrifice for others out of true love for them because we have seen first Christ’s true love for us and we seek to love Christ as He loved us.

Love, then, as Christ shining through Saint Valentine has shown us, is a choice of the will and a choice of the will to sacrifice for the good of another supported and sustained by the love that Christ has shown us on the cross and which dwells in us by the Holy Spirit.

Oh, Saint, can you hear my voice from ages past?
No matter. I hear your voice, His voice, here, at the last.

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Soli Deo Gloria

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