Two Kinds of Love to Celebrate on St Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine’s Day is a day that celebrates romantic love. This sort of love, to be sure, is noble and to be encouraged. The Church has sometimes been accused of being suspicious of romantic love. It is true that certain heretical groups such as the Cathari and the Jansenist’s have frowned on sexual love in marriage. But they were considered heretics for their views. A true Catholic view celebrates romantic love  (eros in Greek).  As a Catholic Pastor I like others want to encourage romantic love and ultimately marriage. And within marriage to encourage on-going romantic love. I tell my younger parishioners, get married (first!) have lots of babies and raise them Catholic! You may recall the old Rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.”

A Great Love – Romantic love is good and it brings blessings! But romantic love (eros) has a place a purpose and in God’s plan. Fundamentally eros is meant to draw a man and a woman to each other and ultimately to marriage. And within marriage their romantic love is to be fruitful and multiplying. Yet too many today just play around with and dabble in eros. They vent its power through premarital sex and do not  follow it’s intended course which is to draw to people together in deep desire and love. Eros is about drawing and man and woman into deep interpersonal union it is not merely about bringing two bodies together.  Too many rush to eros’ physical urge and disclose the deepest mysteries about themselves inappropriately. The great dance of courtship and marriage is thus short-circuited and eros looses both it’s dignity and its goal. Marriage rates have plummeted and so have birthrates.

Pope Benedict has this to say on eros:

That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called “eros” by the ancient Greeks….The Greeks—not unlike other cultures—considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a “divine madness” which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness…..Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet [in] the contemporary [scene] eros, is reduced to pure “sex”….Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: … no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. [But] true, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves….Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important….eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose….[And in Scripture Marriage] becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. (Deus Caritas est 3-11 selected)

So romantic love (eros) has a dignity but it also has a purpose. It’s purpose is to draw man and woman toward marriage, family and ultimately toward God. The deep desire that man and woman have for each other is a sign of the ultimate desire of the human heart for deep union with God.

An even greater love – But there is a second love to be celebrated on St. Valentines Day and that is Agape love.  Agape love is the love whereby we love God above ourselves, above all things and above all people. There is perhaps no greater example of this sort of love than that of the martyrs. They were willing to forsake everything for Christ. They excepted the supreme price of this love, the gift of their very own life. Every martyr can truly say, “Lord, I love you more than my self, my life, my things and more than any other person in my life.  The world hates me for this and will kill me for it, but I willing pay the price that this love demands.”

St. Valentine was a martyr. Christian tradition recognizes two saints from the early Church as “Valentine.” The first is the Roman priest Valentine. He was decapitated in 268 AD  for the crime of trying to convert a member of Emperor Claudius the Goth’s household. He also a renowned healer. The second Valentine is Bishop Valentine who was also a renowned healer and was also turned it for converting people to Christianity. He was imprisoned and the attempt was made to force him to sacrifice to pagan gods. When he refused an attempt was made to club him to death. When that failed he was beheaded in 273 AD.

The red of St. Valentine’s Day signals not only the warm blood of romance, but also the red hot blood of martyrs. Eros is surely noble and necessary. It is rightly celebrated. But no great love (agape) exists than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. Thus today the red blood of martyrs too is celebrated and proclaimed.

A blessed St. Valentine’s Day to one and all.

14 Replies to “Two Kinds of Love to Celebrate on St Valentine’s Day”

  1. Happy St. Valentine’s Day, Msgr. Pope. May your posts continue to be the standard on this website for both erudition and edification. I have trouble sometimes distinguishing between ‘eros’ and ‘agape’, specifically whether the expressions of ecstatic union experienced by the saints, is ‘eros’ or a love from one’s being for God; and whether the rule to Love One’s Neighbor as one’s self for the love of God, would be the more dispassionate form of love, ‘agape’, a kind of justice/mind love which can be evidenced by, and is commented on by persons in scripture, perhaps as the non-favoritism, and impartiality given to people by Jesus. Maybe it’s not a strict ‘either-or’. Maybe both are needed in both cases, because love, of course, requires much more in the giving and receiving, than what can be given in a mere verbal definition. All the best everyone. Happy Valentine’s Day. May we all learn more and more each day how to love.

  2. Valentine’s Day reminds me that there’s always something new to leard about even human love. A few days before my wife died, one of her doctors took me aside in her hospital room and asked me how long we had been married. My wife appeared to be deeply asleep. I was answering him that it would soon be 52 years when she called out, “Not long enough!”

  3. Valentine’s Day reminds me that there’s always something new to learn about even human love. A few days before my wife died, one of her doctors took me aside in her hospital room and asked me how long we had been married. My wife appeared to be deeply asleep. I was answering him that it would soon be 52 years when she called out, “Not long enough!”

  4. Thank you Father for this wonderful blog. I realize I too celebrate two loves this Valentine’s Day. The love of my wife and the love of God. Without one I would not have the other, for turning to one was required to obtain the other. I think you know which one is which. God Bless you and Happy Valentine’s Day.

  5. One thought I had long ago, was that if God did not give women the gift of longing for her husband, the world would be uninhabited. I think it is sincerly because of agape, that God incarnated.

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