Our modern glorification of sentimental love, celebrated with a flurry of Hallmark cards each February, has little to do with Saint Valentine. The only clear account that remains of the 3rd-century priest's life tells of how the Roman Emperor Claudius II personally interrogated him and tried to persuade him to convert to Roman paganism (or die). Valentine refused and tried to convert the emperor to Christianity instead, eventually dying a martyr's death.
While Valentine's story may not have much to do with roses, chocolates, and heart-shaped doilies, it has more to do with real love than we realize. Indeed, Christians have long understood that love is much costlier, stronger, and more difficult than the cheap romanticism of our age.
Nothing could sum that up better than the title of my column. Contra mundum first came to my attention while reading a letter penned by John Wesley to that indefatigable public servant and abolitionist, William Wilberforce. In it, Wesley compared Wilberforce to Athanasius, an earlier champion of Christ's cause who had stood "against the world," defending the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity against Arian heretics. My friend Richard John Neuhaus would later pick up the phrase and add another—"against the world for the world"—to describe the modern-day reform movement, eventually known as the Hartford Appeal. Neuhaus, Wesley, Wilberforce, Athanasius, and Valentine all knew that true love for one's neighbor sometimes means standing against the world for the world's sake.
While recently reading Peter Kreeft's wonderful 2004 book, The God Who Loves You, I was reminded that almost every prominent modern-day apologist has written at least one book about love. Alongside their tomes defending the ...