Given that this blog is published the 14th of each month, it comes as somewhat of surprise even to me that over the five-plus years I’ve written here, I’ve never uttered a word about Valentine’s Day. Although over the years Valentine’s Day has become associated with romantic love, sending gifts such as flowers and chocolate, and engaging in fun dates, it may come as news to some that this day historically carries a religious significance. And I’m not talking about chocolate.
The Feast of Saint Valentine
Valentine’s Day began, as what is called in the Western Christian tradition, a feast day, honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus. Saint Valentine of Rome was a widely known saint commemorated in 3rd Century Christianity. Martyrdom stories accompanied the celebration of this saint. For example, one story had it that Saint Valentine became persecuted for performing marriages for soldiers who were, for various reasons, forbidden to be married. Supposedly he was imprisoned for ministering to Christians who had been persecuted by the Roman Empire. Another story proffered Saint Valentine as a healer. As the story goes, he restored the sight to a blind girl who was the daughter of judge. He wrote a letter to her signed Your Valentine as a farewell letter before his execution. In A.D. 496, to honor Valentine of Rome, Pope Gelasius established the holiday, the Feast of Saint Valentine, on February 14th, the day of Saint Valentine’s death.
Valentine’s Day is an official feast holiday in the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church. Many parts of the Eastern Orthodox church celebrate Saint Valentine as well, but on different dates during the summer months. Since the High Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love, as described by some of the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. As the holiday continued to be celebrated into the 18th and 19th Centuries, it became associated with romantic love, the heart shaped symbol, doves, winged Cupid, and romantic nights out for pleasant dinners. Western Europe recognizes Valentine Keys that are given to lovers to unlock the giver’s heart. These keys likewise are given to children to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady, also known as epilepsy. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day as a romantic event is celebrated all throughout the world, more than just about any other holiday. Though considered a holiday, it is not officially recognized as one whereby people get a day off from work. But from the Far East to Western Europe, and the Americas, Valentine’s Day is a celebration not to be forgotten by lovers without grave consequences.
Lovers and Relationships
I’ve never come across any statistics that point out whether or not relationship issues in counseling increase exponentially during the month of February. Since intimate relationships are one of the main reasons that many clients enter counseling, some doctoral student out there might generate some interesting research on couples’ counseling during the month of February. No doubt the month highlights the theme of intimate relationships. C. S. Lewis’ interesting work, The Four Loves, could provide some meaningful commentary on Valentine’s Day, as well as the nature of love itself. In this work, Lewis delineated four types of love: 1) Storge or empathy bond; 2) Philia or friendship bond; 3) Eros or erotic bond; and 4) Agape or unconditional “God” love. Obviously, Valentine’s Day has largely become associated with Eros, but could not all four types of love be celebrated on Valentine’s Day? And could a broader understanding of what it means to love bring about a well-balanced relationship among lovers, expanding our understanding of love beyond Eros?
The Four Loves
The empathy bond (Storge) occurs among family members, including the natural love that parents have for their children. It’s the type of love whereby familiarity and fondness lead people to meet the needs of those of whom they are fond. When needs cease, this type of love may play out, not due to selfishness, but due simply to the fact that needs are met and people move on. This love may be described via the notion of affection.
The friendship bond (Philia) is one that Lewis believes is a lost art in society. Friendship love is a strong bond that exists between those who share common values, interests, and activities. Think about a strong marriage where both husband and wife claim to have married their best friend. To some degree, I agree with Ayn Rand, who claims that it is next to impossible for people to become close friends when their values are diametrically opposed.
And then comes (Eros), and everyone knows what that kind of love entails. The erotic bond is what many mean by being in love. Yet Lewis offers a warning here. The goddess Venus holds sway over raw pleasure. But Lewis believed that Eros could broaden and deepen the escapades of Venus, making a distinction between what Lewis described as wanting a woman and wanting a particular woman. Eros turns the instinctual pleasures of Venus into the most appreciative of all pleasures whereby the reasoning angel and the instinctual angel meld into one. Moreover, Lewis warned of the dangers of turning Eros into a god, as he saw modern society doing. Venus through all her pleasures can urge us to evil, as well as good. Eros fills us with instinctual pleasure, but can lead us down a dark sway that can be the disaster and ruin for many a man and woman.
Unconditional, selfless love (Agape), Lewis considered the greatest form of love that holds regardless of one’s circumstances. The other three loves, Lewis designated as natural loves. Agape is God-love and sustains the other three. This form of love provides the foundation for the other three to exist. Unconditional love means that one stays with the ship regardless of the storms that rage around it. As human beings, we cannot naturally pull this kind of love off. It requires a spiritual strength, which Lewis believed to reside in the Biblical notion of Agape. Yet unconditional love can become a goal of the highest order, and is one that I suspect we all would admit down deep is a type of love we’re looking and hoping for.
I hope that everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day and Feast. No doubt, Eros will be in the air. How even more wonderful the experience of Eros might be if we consider all of the Four Loves that C. S. Lewis delineates as a package that by God’s strength we can attain. Such well-rounded love is a journey that goes beyond Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, enjoy. Then continue the journey through a full feast served up by the Four Loves.
John V. Jones, Jr., LPC-S/February 14th, 2019