The Church Is an Inexhaustible Mystery

“I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.” —St. Augustine of Hippo

Benozzo Gozzoli, “Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas,” 1471
Benozzo Gozzoli, “Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas,” 1471 (photo: Public Domain)

“Christianity doesn’t make sense.” That was the parting shot from a commenter on a YouTube video at the end of a brief debate. I thought to myself that, in a sense, he was right, but probably not in the sense that he meant it.

There are two ways that something can “not make sense.” 

The first is that something contains a logical error of some kind. Arguments do not make sense if they commit some kind of fallacy, and judgments, ideas and systems of thought do not make sense if they contain a contradiction of some kind. The law of non-contradiction is the fundamental law of all rational thought: a thing cannot be and not be in the same way at the same time.

For example, a square circle (nicknamed the “squircle”) contains a logical contradiction because a square, by definition, is not a circle — and a circle, by definition, is not a square. Therefore, the phrase “square circle” does not refer to anything because no thing can be both a square and a circle at the same time. No one can even imagine a squircle. Logical contradictions are impossible in reality and cannot even be conceptualized.

The second is that we cannot understand something. If we do not understand something, either it is beyond our comprehension, or it is incomprehensible. Calculus doesn’t make sense to most people simply because they don’t understand it, not because it is incomprehensible in itself. To those who have studied calculus or use it on a regular basis, calculus makes complete sense and is eminently comprehensible. That is not enough, though, to keep a frustrated student from declaring that calculus “doesn’t make sense.”

The other possibility is that it is, in principle, beyond earthly human comprehension. Some physicists have warned that if someone claims to understand quantum mechanics, you can be sure he does not understand quantum mechanics. St. Augustine famously said regarding God, “If you understand it, it is not God.” God and quantum mechanics do not contain logical contradictions, but they are not comprehensible by the human mind. They remain mysterious. They remain as paradoxes, apparent contradictions.

Within Christianity, there are many paradoxes, the rejection of any one leads to heresy. To be a Christian is to humbly embrace the weakness of human mental powers in light of the fullness of the Church’s teaching. Our minds are powerless before such truths as the Blessed Trinity; free will and predestination; Christ’s human and divine natures in one person; Christ’s Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine; the unity of the body and soul in each human; mercy and justice; God’s timelessness, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and universal, saving love. 

Logical contradictions do not make sense because they are not real, and they don’t make sense because they degrade the intellect to foolishness and stupidity. God doesn’t make sense because he is the foundation of all reality — a realm into which humans cannot venture and remain human in this life. These mysteries of faith raise the intellect to contemplation and awe. What makes sense to us is what is familiar, what we experience, but no one can experience directly the ground on which all experience rests just as we cannot directly see that by which we see — our own eyes. No man can see God and live.

But one day these paradoxes will, somehow, become a thing of experience and the very food that nourishes us. Already we are called to consume that Mystery in the Holy Eucharist. Will we be able to comprehend it then? Will it all suddenly make sense? I don’t know, but I suspect that we won’t be worrying about that. I think we will be caught up wholly in God himself, not in analyzing our ideas about him or fretting over what kind of knowledge we have.

Does Christianity make sense? Nope, not because there are logical contradictions (I once searched for contradictions in Catholicism in order to disprove it, and if you are reading this article you can infer the results of that search), but because it is true, and the horizon where the Truth and Life make contact with the everyday world of our experience is beyond our field of vision.