No sooner were the final markdowns put on leftover Christmas merchandise than bright red satin hearts lined the shelves to encourage a romantic Valentine’s Day. Actually, of course, it is Saint Valentine’s Day.

While there is some question about who St. Valentine was since three early martyrs shared the name, the best guess is that Valentinus was a priest in Rome around AD 270. One story says that the emperor, Claudius II, believed that single men made the best soldiers and so he forbade weddings. Valentinus performed weddings for Christian couples anyway in defiance of the emperor. He was arrested and imprisoned. As a prisoner he won the emperor’s favor until he attempted to convert Claudius to faith in Christ. His personal evangelism proved fatal. Claudius had Valentinus killed on February 14.

I know that February 14 is no longer St. Valentine’s Day on the church calendar. Instead we remember Saints Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavic people. As someone of Russian descent, I appreciate Cyril and Methodius bringing the Gospel to my ancestors. At the same time, I like the idea of a saint who is associated with romantic love since, old fashioned thinker that I am, I associate romantic love with a man and a woman in a lifelong marriage.

That association between love and marriage is, in large measure, a Christian invention. According to Carrie Miles in her book The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World,“Greco-Roman marriage was mostly a familial alliance designed to produce legitimate heirs, and concerns about power and family honor pervade every aspect of it.” 

Marriage was more an economic, than a personal arrangement. Deals were struck between fathers giving brides in their early teens to men in their twenties or thirties. And while a wife might even have affection for her husband, everyone knew that her first allegiance was to her father’s family, not her husband’s. An element of suspicion and distrust pervaded most marriages.

The Christian teaching that husbands and wives should, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” that wives were to respect their husbands and husbands to love their wives with self-sacrificial commitment (Ephesians 5:21-33) was wildly radical and all the more so given the reason behind those injunctions.