This is the month when we think of love as there is so much red around: roses, cards etc. And although it is traditional to send anonymous cards on St. Valentine’s Day, no one can say for certain who Valentine was. And there is nothing to connect him to the custom of sending anonymous cards.
In the centre of Piccadilly Circus in London there is a statue known as ‘Eros’. Eros was the Greek god of love. He would shoot arrows into the hearts of gods or mortals to arouse their desires. His arrows came in two types: golden with dove feathers, which aroused love, or lead arrows with owl feathers, which caused lack of interest. Eros would make as much mischief as he could by wounding the hearts of all.
The Romans borrowed Eros from the Greeks and named him Cupid. In reality, the truth is that the statue in Piccadilly is not of a pagan god at all. It is actually called The Shaftesbury Monument and represents the angel of Christian charity. It was put up at the end of the nineteenth century as a tribute to a man called Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. As a boy he was uncared for and mistreated. His father bullied him. Bringing him to start at boarding school, his father punched his son at the door and advised the tutor to do the same. Anthony carried the mental scars of this abuse with him all his life. However, this cruelty to the sensitive boy eventually became an advantage. He was always able to sympathize with the sufferings of others.
Shaftesbury became a Member of Parliament in 1826. As a Christian he was shocked to learn of the horrors of life for the working classes in England. He personally toured the slums, workhouses and asylums to discover for himself what was going on, before taking his evidence to his fellow MPs to take action.
To list all the social causes Shaftesbury championed would fill this magazine: He founded schools long before the government took responsibility for education; He pressed for improved sewage systems to prevent diseases like cholera; he campaigned to bring an end to women and children being forced to haul coal for long hours in the darkness of the mines; young boys were freed from work as chimney sweeps thanks to his determination; he did all he could to see that starving children were properly fed; He supported better housing for the poor.
All of this was guided by one simple idea. Shaftesbury was fierce in his conviction that Jesus must be at the centre of people’s lives, and that through love we can all achieve our true potential. Because of this, Shaftesbury was a popular, well-loved figure. When he preached people listened with respect. At his funeral, thousands stood without hats in the pouring rain to show their love for the man who had loved them.
1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible tells us about this kind of love. Have a read of it and compare it with the verses you find in modern Valentine’s cards.