At this point, it would be a good idea to clearly distinguish how Catholic theology understands three closely related words from the way they are used in everyday conversation. The three words are: mystery, understand, and comprehend.

In everyday conversation, the word “mystery” is used to indicate that something is secret and unknown (such as the mysterious origins of Stonehenge), and the words “understand” and “comprehend” are used as synonyms. However, these three words have different meanings in Catholic thought.

  • A mystery is a truth that we cannot know unless God directly reveals it to us through supernatural revelation.
  • A mystery is understandable, which means that the human mind finds the truth reasonable and is able to mentally grasp it as intelligible.
  • However, comprehend, in Catholic theology, means to fully understand. Therefore, even though a mystery is understandable, it is not fully understandable, which is to say, using Catholic vocabulary, that we cannot comprehend it or, in other words, it is incomprehensible. (For Advanced lesson 3.)