Tuesday, February 14, 2012

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia

The Roman Martyrology commemorates two martyrs named Valentine on February 14, indicating that both were beheaded on the Flaminian Way, one at Rome, the other at Terni some 60 miles from the capital. Valentine of Rome was a priest who is said to have died c. 269 during the persecution of Claudius the Goth. The other Valentine was allegedly bishop of Terni, and his death is attested to in the MARTYROLOGY OF ST. JEROME. Whether there were actually one or two Valentines is disputed. O. Marucchi held for two. H. Delehaye thought that Valentine of Terni may have been brought to Rome for execution and that two cults, one at Rome, another at Terni, sprang up to the same martyr. The late medieval custom of sending love notes on Saint Valentine's Day stems probably from the belief that it marked the mating season of birds. (E. DAY,  "Valentine, St." New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale, 2003. New Catholic Encyclopedia,  371-372).
The earlier Catholic Encyclopedia adds this,

Indeed, the issues surrounding the historicity of St. Valentine, led to the removal of St. Valentine from the general commemoration of saints, as it did many others: “the most far-reaching reform of the liturgical calendar was effected by the 1969 General Norms of the Roman Calendar, which drastically pruned the number of commemoration of saints from 338 to 191” ("Liturgical Calendar, I: Catholic." New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 2003. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 641-643). Still, St. Valentine's Feast Day remains February 14.
As a result of these numerous historical issues, many historians have decided to forego the study of St. Valentine, considering the historical questions unanswerable, unsolvable, and unbelievable. Do you know what I call these historians? Safe, boring, predictable, insincere, weak and pedestrian. This scholarly wariness does not allow them to see the true story of St. Valentine, but I want to venture there, with the help of some little known manuscripts.

Some of you will know that many ancient accounts, or Acta, of ancient martyrs and saints have a number of different versions or recensions, some in more than one language. There are often broad disagreements amongst these various manuscript traditions. What I want to do today is draw your attention to four Valentinian manuscript variations, which I will label recension L, recension O, recension V and recension E. I was thinking of naming them A, B, C, D, but for some reason L,O,V, E jumped out at me.  What is most remarkable about these manuscripts is that they are written in modern English, which would cause lesser scholars not to date them to the ancient world, but consider them forgeries. I, however, transcend that sort of obviousness.

The second remarkable thing about these manuscripts is how often they discuss practices or things which, apart from these manuscripts, were not known in late antiquity. Finally, when reading these manuscripts, when caught up in the texts and readings, I cannot take my mind off my wife. Writing patterns often begin to change, to shape to the sweet, smooth cadences of the manuscripts, a desire for low, ancient lighting – girl, why don’t you light some candles? – can overtake the reader and music - of the lyre, of the flute, or of Barry White – begins its sultry rhythms in the mind.  If you cannot handle the truth, grab your coat and shoes and leave right now, but girl, if you are ready, mmm, I mean ready for the truth, step inside, turn the lights down low and listen to a story, never before told…the true story of Saint Valentine.

Manuscript L, that’s right, baby, manuscript L, speaks of sharing “a food so good, that no other is needed. This food from the cocoa bean, mixed with sugar and milk, is like food from God, theobroma. Milky brown, melting on your lips, a smooth concoction, of which we cannot get enough.” This moves up the known date that Europeans were eating chocolate by over a millennium, which is fascinating in itself, and connects chocolate to Valentine himself over 1500 years prior to Richard Cadbury, who created a heart-shaped chocolate container for Valentine's Day in 1861. Whether Valentine himself travelled to the Americas to sample this food and to bring it back will probably always remain a mystery.

Now, as I bring out recension O, look me in the eyes and tell me that you do not want to hear any more of this story. Can you?  So, sit back, relax, and enjoy.  Apart from the passage regarding chocolate, recension O holds an account of “little cards, on parchment or vellum, passed between sweethearts, which tell of love pure and divine, in order that heaven shall be ours; and for the children cards which hold cartoon pictures of ponies or heroes, such pictures as might be shown on a device that beams pictures near and far, as if bearing television.” In this case Valentine has foreseen the television, but more importantly, the Valentine’s Day card both for adults and children.  As the New Catholic Encyclopedia  stated, it has long been believed that the giving of cards on Valentine’s Day dates to “the late medieval custom of sending love notes” on this day which stemmed “from the belief that it marked the mating season of birds.” That remains a possibility, but here we have a much earlier manuscript marking it as a sign of divine love, or little ponies.

Recension V tells of flowers passed between those madly in love, “whose perfume is more intoxicating than any blossom in bloom.” Yet, although the manuscript speaks of this intoxication in each other, the author, presumed to be Valentine, writes, “yet, for reasons unknown, inexplicable, I must spend more than these flowers are worth on this very day, in order that in their wilting my eternal love for you shall be seen, and my empty purse show that love transcends the petty material needs of this world.” Even I have had trouble attributing this manuscript to Valentine, for I have seen the hand here of medieval or early Renaissance flower dealers, perhaps dating as late as the Dutch Tulip mania in the 17th century.

One possible textual emendation, for I think the actual reference to flowers is Valentinian, is that the passage above – “for reasons unknown, inexplicable, I must spend more than these flowers are worth on this very day, in order that in their wilting my eternal love for you shall be seen, and my empty purse show that love transcends the petty material needs of this world” – is originally “these flowers are worth {nothing} on this very day, in order that in their wilting my eternal love for you shall be seen, and my…. love transcends the petty material needs of this world.” This is highly likely as the original reading and removes the need to buy usuriously priced flowers on Valentine’s Day.

The final recension, E, speaks of “love, unending, greater than you or I, in which we participate, here for a short time, there eternally.” It seems obvious that the other additions to the manuscript, such as “can’t get enough of your love, baby, mmmm, can’t get enough of your love…” and “lovin’ you is easy cause you’re beautiful…,” are from a second hand. Not only is the hand different, but the content itself seems to draw on later texts, known respectively as Whiteonian and Rippertonian.  Scholars are divided, though,  as to whether Valentine could have written the following line, “Roses are red, violets are blue, honey’s sweet and so are you.”

I have written on these things today to tell you the real story of Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day. I have told of you of these manuscripts, L,O,V,E, and  have done so to the best of my ability. If it turns out that these texts do not date back to St. Valentine, so be it. It is better to have told of L,O,V,E than to have kept it quietly to myself.

John W. Martens

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