I essentially agree with Norris’s conclusions about depression. She says that in the past 50 years especially we have seen it almost completely secularized and described only in terms of chemicals in the brain.
Robert Burton, writing in 1621, spoke not of assaults of the devil but of the “anatomy of melancholy.” Burton’s stated purpose in devising this “anatomy” was to reveal melancholy as “an ordinary disease,” for if it could be shown that to be causes by the physical “humours,” a natural remedy might be found. As an Anglican priest, Burton did not discount the religious element in the struggle against despair. His seven-point prescription for healing includes acknowledging that the source of our misery is sin, and that our help comes from a God we approach by the practice of repentance and prayer.
Still, his work had the effect of turning despair into sickness. This coincided nicely with the eclipse of theology and the rise of scientific methods as the best, if not only, way of understanding human behavior. The literary historian Reinhard Kuhn speaks of the late Renaissance as a period in which an ennui arose “whose germs had lain dormant in acedia, the monastic sickness,” and entered a long, slow process of secularization, becoming today’s “nameless melancholy.”
-Kathleen Noris, Acedia & Me, p.165
This wholly scientific explanation is not to be discounted. On the other hand, we have some demon chasers who insist the devil has a hand in nearly every case. I actually do NOT discount this either, at least not completely. What Norris is mostly trying to bring back into the equation of our understanding is personal sin.
This combination idea of depression, sloth, boredom, restlessness, apathy – it’s source can be found in some combination of these three and if we only fight ONE of these, are we unlikely to be very effective.
1. Sleep, exercise, and maybe psychotropic drugs
2. Repentance and spiritual disciplines
3. Prayer from others, deliverance or even exorcism
See how if you ONLY deal with one of these, you are probably missing something important?