The New Man: An Interpretation of Some Parables and Miracles of Christ
This book has been out of print for some time now, though there are reasonably priced used copies available. The title and image are linked to free online versions.
Table of Contents
I The Language of Parable
II The Idea of Temptation in the Gospels
III The Marriage at Cana
IV The Idea of Good being above Truth
– The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda
– The Good Samaritan
– The Laborers in the Vineyard
V The Idea of Righteousness
VI The Idea of Wisdom
VII Simon Peter
VIII The Idea of Prayer
– The Necessity of Persistence in Prayer
– The Necessity of Sincerity in Prayer
– Response to Prayer
– Request in Prayer
IX The Sermon on the Mount
XI The Kingdom of Heaven
XII Judas Iscariot
If you are a Christian, or any other seeker, who is beginning to look for more than literal meaning to the messages of the New Testament, then you’ll find this book a powerful starting place. If you’re already well down that path, then you may also find things here that not only resonate with your own thoughts and experiences, but can bring fresh insights and challenge you in new ways.
Dr. Maurice Nicoll provides a profound view of the depths that we might plumb in the parables and messages of Jesus. Nicoll’s concern is not as much with historical or theological views of Jesus, but rather how the Gospel accounts of his life and teachings can show us the way to fulfill our potentials as spiritual beings. In the front of my copy (Fifth Impression), Nicoll clearly states his purpose in “A Note on the Author”:
The intention is to indicate that all teaching such as contained in the Gospels, and many other older and newer teachings, in the short period of known history, is about transcending the violence which characterizes mankind’s present level of being. It affirms the possibility of a development of another level of being surmounting violence.
Nicoll’s poignant interpretations are significantly shaped by his impressive background in medical, psychological and philosophical studies; he was a student of Freud, Jung, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. He believes the central psychological idea of the Gospels is the movement toward rebirth, which is to awaken as a person with a deeper understanding of self and others. Nicoll calls this movement “inner evolution”, and stresses that it must be engaged by the whole person – thoughts, feelings and actions.
One key he offers to using the Gospels for this kind of work is to view the various characters and elements as symbolic of aspects or dynamics of the soul. For example, he takes up the symbolism of the Pharisee* not so much as a member of an historical group, or even a way of characterizing others in one’s life, but as:
…the Pharisee in oneself, to the insincere person in oneself who, of course, cannot receive any real and genuine psychological teaching without turning it into an occasion for merit, praise and award.
Another significant element of Nicoll’s view is a hierarchical appreciation of the relationship between the human and the divine. In fact, this seems to be the very basis of his views on prayer. He posits that prayer is an attempt to communicate upward to heaven, and as such requires persistence to the point of “shameless impudence,” yet, perhaps ironically, with a sincerity born of utter humility: “Unless a man feels he is nothing, prayer is useless….” Even so, Nicoll makes it sound as though enough pious nagging will force God into serving us as we wish: “Only persistence and intensity can cause the higher level to respond.” (my emphasis) On face value we might find these views troubling, but it would be extremely unfair to take Nicoll on face value, for he also says:
And let us also remind ourselves that the attainment of this higher level possible for Man is called heaven or the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels and that it is within a man, as a possibility of his own inner evolution or re-birth of himself, and that Man at the level he is on, as an unawakened creature, an unfinished experiment, is called earth. These are the two levels, the higher and the lower, and some very great differences exist between them, as great as the differences between a seed and a flower. Thus communication between these two levels is difficult. The mission of Christ was to bridge, to connect, and to bring into correspondence in himself these two levels, the divine and the human….
Nicoll insists that “by an evolution of the whole psychic man, that is by an evolution of all his mind, his love, his will and his understanding”, the “Man of the Kingdom”, the “New Man” of Christ in us, can be born. In the end, it seems to me that Nicoll has essentially come around to saying one’s prayers are more likely to receive a positive response as one’s whole being is more attuned to the divine. In other words, one is more likely to get what is wanted because one is more likely to persistently and sincerely pray for what is most in harmony with the divine.
Some readers will find one of the most challenging themes of the book to be about placing Good above Truth (Nicoll’s capitalizations). For Nicoll, issues of Truth are inevitably interwoven with differing perspectives of understanding and opinion. His concern is that doctrines and laws too often stand upon that very subjective and all too often self-serving foundation, because the person who has not attained a higher level of Good “can twist the higher Truth to suit his vanity.” It isn’t that doctrines about Truth are to be ignored, but rather should be seen as stepping stones meant to lead us to higher levels of knowing and being Good. So it is that even the most hallowed doctrines are misunderstood if they are not considered secondary to Good:
The Mosaic Law, or, at least the ten commandments, are instructions from the side of Truth, as to how to attain a level of Good, where, as commandments, they have no further meaning. But if they are taken as an end, and not as a means of an end, they become stumbling blocks.
Nicoll speaks of this shift of priorities from Truth to Good in the Gospel language of the first becoming last and the last becoming first. He argues that this reversal is central to the mission of Christ, for it places our understanding of Truth within the context of Good, and not vice versa, which enables us to serve the higher purposes of doctrine, the spirit of the law rather than merely the letter. This seems to connect well with Jesus’ statement that “all the law and the prophets” hang upon our love for God and our fellow human beings.
Finally, throughout the book it’s clear that Nicoll urges his readers to engage the challenging work of connecting with the higher levels within themselves. While he speaks much about the honest self-awareness, genuine humility, integrity and commitment such attainment requires from the human being, he doesn’t have much to say about Divine Grace. This omission is unfortunate because Grace is such a significant element of the Good News. Perhaps Nicoll would say the capacity and the opportunity to do that work are themselves gifts of Grace.
[* In fairness, it’s worth noting that although the stereotype of the Pharisee is often used disparagingly among Christians, Jesus and the Apostles actually had some good friends and supporters among the Pharisees, such a Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Gamaliel.]