Peter Kreeft on the Meaning of Christmas

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.

But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.

Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.

These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.

This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.

Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsChristmas* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic* Theology

2 Comments
Posted December 25, 2007 at 4:02 pm

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/8682/



1. Larry Morse wrote:

This is Dante’s approach in the Divine Comedy and this is what gives the DC is manylayered complexity. Moreover, as y ou know, I have been arguing that the scriptures should be read as poetry, and the explanation above gives credence to my argument. The gospel is not an either-or matter, but a complex layering of human experience and divine intervention. This does NOT mean that sometimes the text               is not clear, simple and direct, on the other hand. Sometimes it is, and it is unwise not to see that both the literal and the complex exist side by side.  Larry

December 26, 9:34 am | [comment link]
2. rob k wrote:

No. 1 - I agree.  And, the Scriptures must be read as the handbook of the Church, from which they arose and have meaning.  Although this is too long for a sermon, it would still have served better as such than Bishop Andrus’s meandering sermon posted subsequent to this post.

December 26, 5:55 pm | [comment link]


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