Question Time by Fr John Flader
Question: A friend recently invited me to a program on the enneagram and I didnít know anything about it. Is this something that can be recommended for Catholics?
FIRST, what is an enneagram?
The name comes from the Greek words for nine and written or drawn, and it refers to a tool for analysing one’s personality based on nine interconnected personality types, represented by nine points on a geometric figure called an enneagram.
Supposedly with its origins in the mystical Sufi sect of Islam, it was developed by an Armenian occultist, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who lived in Russia from 1877 to 1947.
It was further developed and brought to the West in the 1960s by Chileans Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo.
The Sufi religion provides the background for the enneagram.
Sufis believe in the “Design”, which is God’s plan for mankind.
The “Design” cannot be known by all but only by the initiated, in this case by Sufi masters who have direct access to it.
In this sense, it is a form of gnosticism, the belief in a higher, hidden knowledge accessible only to the privileged few.
How does the Church look on the enneagram?
In 2000 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine prepared a draft statement entitled “A Brief Report on the Origins of the Enneagram”.
The report identified areas of concern and stated: “While the enneagram system shares little with traditional Christian doctrine or spirituality, it also shares little with the methods and criteria of modern science.”
In 2003 the Vatican document “Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life”, which dealt with the dangers of New Age practices, said that gnosticism “has always existed side by side with Christianity … more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian. An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith” (1.4).
In 2004 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine released a “Report on the Use of the Enneagram: Can it Serve as a True Instrument of Christian Spiritual Growth?” for the internal use of the bishops.
The report states: “An examination of the origins of enneagram teaching reveals that it does not have credibility as an instrument of scientific psychology and that the philosophical and religious ideas of its creators are out of keeping with basic elements of Christian faith on several points. Consequently, the attempt to adapt the enneagram to Christianity as a tool for personal spiritual development shows little promise of providing substantial benefit to the Christian community”.
Jesuit Father Fr Mitch Pacwa writes: “Besides these scientific and psychological problems with the enneagram, Christians have many theological difficulties with it.
“The frequent use of such occult practices as divination and spiritism in Gurdjieff and Ichazo immediately throws up a red flag.
“In Deuteronomy 18:9-15 and many other Scripture passages, God our Lord forbids such pursuits.
“Most of the ‘experts’ I know, however, avoid the occult or know nothing about its presence in the enneagram’s background.
“Despite this avoidance or ignorance, theological problems appear in enneagram workshops across the country.”
In 2011 Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami wrote an online column titled “New Age is Old Gnosticism”.
He described the enneagram as a “pseudo-psychological exercise supposedly based on Eastern mysticism, (which) introduces ambiguity into the doctrine and life of the Christian faith and therefore cannot be happily used to promote growth in an authentic Christian spirituality”.
He says the enneagram program redefines sin by associating faults with personality types, and that it encourages an unhealthy self-absorption with one’s own type, so that the type is at fault rather than the person, thus undermining personal freedom and responsibility.
With all these warnings, I would certainly not recommend attending an enneagram program.