The Roman Empire had gone through military anarchy as Emperor Severus was assassinated by his own troops in 235. This initiated a period where Roman generals vied for the emperor’s crown; some of the generals were accepted by the Roman Senate, others were not. Claudius the II had spent all of his adult life in the Roman army and was promoted through the ranks until he obtained the command of the cavalry, under the reign of Emperor Gallieneus. He was thought by some to have murdered his predecessor, but his choice to spare the lives of the former emperor’s family silenced those accusations.
The mercy shown to the family of Gallieneus was not to be extended to citizens Claudius II’s deputies believed were threats to his empire, however. Claudius II likely was not directly responsible for the death of St. Valentine, as he was busy quelling uprisings and claiming territory, but it is likely that his nation’s soldiers or deputies were directly responsible for Valentinus’ death.
The Roman senate had long ago abdicated its role as a check to the power of the emperors, by deifying them after their death. The senate had apparently taken this position after a popular Julius Caesar had defied the senate as he crossed the Rubicon. This, along with the devaluation of the denarius to one-tenth the original weight in silver, caused further decline in the rights of the citizens. Landowners who held little land could not successfully export their crops, so they sold their land to larger estate owners. The larger owners of land started to form their own manufacturing communities. Those who worked on the land began to move further out to the countryside to the protection of the manor owners. As the government saw the localization of the economy, the pride of Rome was emphasized, and those who dissented from emperor worship were persecuted, at least locally.
Another factor causing the Romans to persecute Christians was their separation from Roman society. Many Christians were pacifists, who refused to fight for the Roman government. Others were willing to fight but not willing to give up the right to marry and have a family. It is the protection of this right that caused Saint Valentine to refuse consent and exert his right under God to perform marriages for fellow believers.
St. Valentine’s lessons
Father O’Gara of Whitefriars Church in Dublin, Ireland, describes the situation: “I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived,” said Father O’Gara. “Polygamy would have been much more popular than just one woman and one man living together. And yet some of them seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. But obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life, and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this.”
“The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.”(Anyone may read the rest of the interview at www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story) The lessons for believers and their leaders are clear. Leaders should, like Valentinus, exert their God-given responsibilities in all circumstances, even in times of trouble. Christians should be prepared to take a stand for Christ.
Penni Bulten is a homeschooling mom who is fascinated with the Founding Fathers and their faith. She can be reached at [email protected].