Valentine’s Day ought to remind us of why the gospel is Wow. Valentine’s Day is Wow Day. If you’re wondering why, read on.
In the Christian tradition, God is love. Love is giving and receiving. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give and receive in community. As love, they enjoy one another and the desire to expand the circle. But how can they do this? The Father, Son, and Spirit decide to expand the circle of love by having the Son get married. But whom will he marry?
The Father, Son, and Spirit create a bride in their image—humanity. God’s eternal plan has always been to “marry” us (Hos. 2:19)—to live in an eternal exchange of love and communion. Wow. The gospel is God’s intention for his Son to be married—to us.
Jesus courts us, woos us. As his bride, we’re ought to be wowed and return his love. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8). This is why Saint Valentine of Rome, a third-century Roman saint, commonly associated with “courtly love,” is celebrated on February 14th.
There are several variations of the legend of Valentine. One has him arrested for secretly marrying couples so husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. Another says he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.” Whatever the case, in A.D. 496, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as Valentine Day. He was an exemplar of Jesus courting us to be bride, something that ought to wow us.
As the church spread into Europe, St. Valentine’s Day became an European holiday. That did not happen initially in America as Puritan Americans tended to disavow the saints’ days of the Old World. As a result, early Protestant America almost completely disregarded St. Valentine’s Day holiday. And that withered some of the gospel’s wow.
Valentine’s Day made a comeback in the mid-1800s. In 1840, sending a letter from Boston to Richmond cost 25 cents a sheet. The average laborer made 75 cents a day. In 1845, Congress enacted the first in a series of laws that sharply reduced the cost of sending letters. The drop in postal rates set off a surge in personal correspondence. This included what has been described as “Valentine mania.”
By the late 1850s, Americans were buying 3 million ready-made valentines every year. By the time the craze tapered off a few decades later, people were sending each other cards for Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and Valentines. Greeting cards became a fixture of American life. But the original meaning of Valentines had faded from view.
The Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because so little is known about his actual origins. But the church still recognizes him as a saint, listing him in the February 14 spot of Roman Martyrolgy. Whatever variation of Valentine’s legend is true, Christians would benefit from remembering the connection between courtly love and Valentine’s Day. Courtly love reminds us of wow—how the gospel is God’s eternal plan for his Son to marry us.
 Geoffrey Nunberg, The Years of Living Dangerously (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), pp. 141-143.