Being a Paper delivered to Students of Federal College of Education, Technical, Umunze by Valentine Obienyem on the 13th of February, 2018 in Commemoration of 2018 Valentine’s Day.
First and foremost, let me thank this wonderful community led by Rev. Fr. Toochukwu Odika for the opportunity offered me for what I call exchange of ideas and celebration of love. I call it exchange of ideas because I believe that it is an opportunity for us to learn from one another in mutual conviviality.
When father called me two days ago to come over this evening for this, I asked myself why it should be me. Already, this year’s Valentine has become notorious for coinciding what Arch Wednesday. I understand that the last time of such a coincidence was in 1945. This naturally has sparked a lot of debate.
In Arch Wednesday, the Church requests us to fast and do abstinence in preparation for the Lenten journey of 40 days that will culminate in the greatest feast in Christendom – Easter. In the understanding of the world, which is not the thinking of the Church, Valentine’s day is for merry-making, popping of champagne and Epicurean indulgence of “let us eat today for tomorrow we shall die.” With this in mind, some people have even called on the Church to grant special dispensation for Valentine to be celebrated according to their fancies, rather than allow the intrusion of the requirements of Arch Wednesday.
Having said the foregoing, I am happy to be with you in the fervent hope that towards the end of this interaction we may understand that Valentine’s day properly so called is more of a call for sacrifice and not what the world has turned it into.
In the late eighties, as a young man undergoing secondary education, I heard about Valentine’s day when I was in SS1 In 1987. At that time, the feast has not lost its essential purity as it has done today. About a week ago, my daughters, 6 and 9, as has become customary even when they were barely out of diapers, have started reminding me of this Year’s Valentine in the happy innocence of children celebrating godliness and perfect love. Today, they wore mufti (red and white) to school and wrote letters they gave to their teachers and loved ones. When I asked them what was happening, they said they were asked by their teachers to buy gifts for people as mark of love, which Christ the epitome of love shows us daily. I say this to let you know how fast the world has changed!
But what is worrisome amongst most of us is that we do not even understand what Valentine means and what it is supposed to celebrate.
With the foregoing, let me pose the question: “What is Valentine’s Day and what is it supposed to celebrate?”
Those that answer Valentine dread the month of February like a plague. Besides close friends who always demand that you celebrate your name in grand style, most confront you with all manner of questions bordering on the concept that your name is supposed to embody. Thus, you are asked whether you were born on the 14th of February or whether you were a by-product of love affair that took place in the month of February. One fact I have come to discover over the years is that people take those that bear the name of Valentine as experts in all known techniques of love, starting with its fundaments to its metaphysics.
Despite much research, we cannot tell unarguably the exact date the feast started, nor the route by which it entered into history. Perhaps it is connected to the life of St. Valentine who was said to have suffered martyrdom in Rome as the Church hagiography would want us to believe; perhaps, as the legend of the saint’s heroic faith says, it grew out of the love shown to prisoners by the saintly Valentine; perhaps it has to do with the period in the year when birds of the earth look for mates; perhaps it is another case of substitution of a pagan feast by Christian feast as a subtle way of blighting paganism at the bud. We do not know. Valentine’s Day is part of history whose beginning has been forgotten, and whose end we shall never reach.
The popularity of Valentine’s Day could be linked to the nature of the theme it celebrates – love. Writing about love, Archbishop Fulton Sheen called it “the most used, and the most misunderstood word.” The misunderstanding inherent in the nature of love often provokes people to ask questions such as: How much of what we claim as love is love indeed? Does love have different levels and spheres? Is it possible to love our neighbour as ourselves, as the Holy writ prescribes? What is love? These are the questions with which the most comprehensive theories, treatises, and analyses of love find it necessary to begin.
To the Greeks, love could be Eros, Philia, and agape. Plato’s ladder of love in the Symposium has different loves for its rungs, up to what we commonly call “Platonic Love”. He talked in terms of loving human being by directing one’s mind to love of divinity and demonstrated about how love inspires the mind and the soul to directs attention to spiritual things.
St Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between love in the sphere of the passion and love as an act of will. The former he assigns to what he calls the “concupiscible faculty” of the sensitive appetite; the latter, to the rational or “intellectual appetite”. Sometimes, people talk about metaphysical, contemplative, material and acquisitive love, etc.
Whatever form love takes, it implies a complex psychical experience of strong attraction to, intense desire for, vivid appreciation of, a profound interest in, ones object of love. The object of love could be a fellow being, institution, cause or even nature. It involves tender affection, sympathetic understanding, admiration and loyalty, with reference to its object.
But apart from a few people who recognize the fact of plurality of love in their analyses, most of us, especially the youth, talk abundantly of love, commonly in the sense of amorous appetite. (Animal act out of instinct) These are people who confess their loving the object of their love more than their own mothers. Our elders consider this form of love to be a form of “possession” or “madness”, and would frown at anyone who would propose it as a fit guide in the choice of marriage mate. They do this, knowing that once the erotic side of love diminishes or fades away altogether, the disinterested element fades too; interest in the other’s happiness evaporates, all tender feeling is eroded, and the one desire is to get away. This is what Lucretius called “erotic befuddlement”. What Dedriot deridedly described as “the voluptuous loss of a few drops of liquid”. It is a spark thrown off by the contact or nearness of two opposite bodies.
In pursuit of this type of love there is nothing that human beings have not done, or are not capable of doing. The love portion that some ladies brew for men they suspect of unrequited love has no platonic aim. It is not out of generosity, rather to get the object of their longing, that men spend lots of money in wooing women. Women themselves do as much. To attract men, they dress in manners to arouse precipitate passion. Eyelashes are darkened with gum ammonia. Checks and lips are painted with sticks of minium or alkanet roots. Adjustable eyebrows are used and often pencilled with lampblack or pulverized or sulphuret of antimony, sometimes it is thinned to diverse shapes or shaved off entirely and painted “crescent moons” or other forms. Eyelids are shaded with kohl. All sort of things are rubbed on the face, in the hope that it will make them look beautiful. Some in the villages still wrap their fingernails over night with henna leaves to make them purple. Padded brassieres are used to make the breast look poised and … Breast enhancement has since become part of beauty regimen. There is no part of the woman’s body, in pursuit of men, that has not been perfected, decorated, refined, stretched and squeezed, bleached, reformed, compacted and shortened.
Higher than the afore-described love is what is often called genuine friendship. In this type of love, there is often the predominance of altruistic motives. It springs from mutual admiration. Here, love is thought to precede desire and to determine its wishes. Marriages built upon this type of love are often successful. Mature lovers discover that marriage transcends the act of multiplication of the species or the fantasy of sexual acts. There are some men who think that all a woman appreciates in a man is when he brandishes the erectile organ to her satisfaction. No. Marriage is more than that. It demands deep understanding and maturity from both partners.
All the foregoing classifications and distinctions, inexhaustible though, belong to the theory of human love. But the fact of love’s diversity extends to the Christian theory of love. Christianity brought about a basic shift in man’s thinking about love. Christianity sees love not in the emotion or passion, but from the infinite perfection and creativity of God. God Himself is love (I John 4: 4). “Love ye one another”. In this profound sentence, God summarized all the commandments. Love rules the world and was, perhaps, as Parmenides thought, “the very first thing created by the gods to rule the world”.
The key to peace in the world is for men to embrace the ethics of Christ – love. Confucius taught a version of it in his rule of reciprocity (golden rule). Immanuel Kant espoused it in his book, The Metaphysics of Morals in what he called the “Maxims of Categorical Imperative”. All great religions teach it. Until we start to imbibe this golden rule (love), the battle to re-make the world can as well be labelled a utopia.
The sooner we use the day of Valentine to promote this type of love, the better the world will become. Here we are again celebrating another Valentine. How do we make it serve the purpose of making the world a better place? This is the central question.