I understand the cause of your sickness. You have forgotten what you are.” So says Lady Philosophy to the grieving Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy. What she said in the confines of his prison cell is applicable today: At the root of many of modernity’s ills lies a misconception of human nature. We have forgotten what we are. And this amnesia leads to a profound melancholy.
The Renaissance humanists believed Melancholia was both a bodily and a mental condition. An excess of “black bile” threw off the equilibrium between the four humors, leaving one with a melancholic disposition. But melancholy was also understood to be the result of a splintering between reality and one’s perception of it.
While the humanists were wrong about the four humors, they were right to have a more cohesive understanding of the mind-body union. Today, we see the sad results of forgetting this union all around us—such as in violent attempts to conform the body to unreal visions of the mind through surgery, cross-sex hormone therapy, or puberty blockers. Studies show that these forced changes to the reality of the body, unsurprisingly, do not lead to happiness; instead, they often lead to depression.
Fortunately, the humanists found a cure in two things: philosophical discourse and friendship. Through these, the melancholic’s perception of reality is realigned to the truth, and she is pulled from her isolation to, in a sense, become more human than she was before. This resurfacing to reality is what First Things aims to achieve.
Through stellar writing and the excellent conversations it fosters, First Things provides both discourse and a community, one that aims to humanize the reader. Love and dialogue lead us back to Love and the Word himself, the first thing upon which all other things depend. We must rediscover, as N. T. Wright put it in the 2019 Erasmus Lecture, an “epistemology of love.”
But we cannot continue this conversation without you, our readers. We need your support to keep the lights on, pay our superb writers, and keep the “real conversation” going—one “marked by discipline and continuity,” as the First Things editorial mission statement declares. Every contribution helps. We at First Things thank you for your generosity.
Veronica Clarke is a junior fellow at First Things.