by Ralph Rath
Out of nowhere, the enneagram burst onto the Christian scene and became very popular with publishers and retreat houses. The enneagram is a circular diagram on which personality types numbered one through nine are symbolically represented at nine equidistant points on the circumference. The numbers are then connected by arrows in significant patterns which point the way to health (integration) or to neurosis (disintegration). Each human personality is said to fall into one of these nine types.
The personality types and the animals symbolizing them are:
1. Perfectionist/reformer, terrier
2. Helper, cat
3. Status-seeker, peacock
4. Artist, basset hound
5. Thinker, fox
6. Loyalist, rabbit
7. Fun-loving/generalist, monkey
8. Powerful, rhinoceros
9. Peacemaker, elephant.
In an article in New Heaven/New Earth, Dorothy Ranaghan raised a number of criticisms of enneagrams. To begin with, she had problems with its origin in contemporary Sufism. (Sufism is a mystical offshoot of Islam.) "There is much in the zeal, devotion and asceticism of Sufis that is admirable," she wrote. "Yet, in contrast to the contemplation and the yearning for holiness of the Muslim mystics of former ages, contemporary Sufism, which claims over 40 million adherents, has become a mix of pantheism, magic and rationalism with a belief in telepathy, teleportation, foreknowledge, transmigration of souls and a denial of a personal God."
Ranaghan also had problems with some of the terminology which seemed Christian, but was not. "Redemption, for example, does not mean, among Sufis, the saving action of God in our lives, but "return from ignorance." The very worst thing, according to Sufi doctrine, is "not sin, but ignorance." "All Gnosticism flows from this premise," Ranaghan observed.
The goal of Sufism is to make a person whole and the enneagram chart seeks to enable healthy integration of the personality as the path to redemption. "Jesus can and does heal and restore sight to the blind and hope to those who are cast down," Ranaghan wrote, "but brokenness in mind or body is not necessarily an obstacle to holiness. Furthermore, even the most authentic, self-discovered, psychologically healthy, integrated and whole person on earth can go to hell."
In her book A Closer Look at the Enneagram, Ranaghan said the man primarily responsible for transmitting the enneagram into the West was George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, an Armenian occultist who lived in Russia from 1877 to 1947.
He also had a great influence on the contemporary New Age movement. Gurdjieff's writings, Ranaghan noted, are "filled with descriptions of planetary influences, astral bodies, clairvoyant and telepathic experiments, and with explanations of the true significance of occult interests such as kundalini and the Tarot." For Gurdjieff, the enneagram had secret powers not particularly allied to personality typology. "The enneagram is a universal symbol," Gurdjieff believed. "All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted."
The enneagram seems very faddish. It seems to be the in thing. Proponents seem so excited because they claim it comes from the wisdom of the ancient Sufis, but they are hard-pressed to mention any book from the Sufis that is generally accepted as a work of great wisdom. (Sufis are known for having spawned the whirling dervishes, who spin themselves into an altered state of consciousness.) The enneagram symbol is often portrayed in promotional materials as something magical and mystical in itself. Authors assure us that there are only nine personality types. "The term 'enneagram' is derived from the Greek word 'enneas,' meaning nine," a 1985 book stated. "According to the enneagram system, there are nine, and only nine, types of human personality."
I have personally challenged a number of enneagram proponents about there being only nine personality types possible. Everyone I talked to backed off. Some mentioned that the complete enneagram system itself allows for flexibility in assigning personality traits to people. A 1987 book agreed with this: "While the nine personality types of the enneagram form discrete categories, you should not think of them as iron-clad entities. You will find that the enneagram is open-ended and extraordinarily fluid, like human beings themselves."
Furthermore, Christian proponents of the enneagram are sometimes forced to encourage Christians to bend their Christian standards to deal with their problems. "Progress in the enneagram seems to be movement from one sin type to another sin type," Ranaghan wrote. "Persons who are 2s (the 'nervous breakdowns' in the world) need, according to Sister Mary Helen Kelley, to 'come to conscious selfishness' for redemption. Sister Barbara Metz states that 'to come to wholeness . . . the 6 (the loyalist) needs to walk into the darkness of deviance and disobedience.'"
February 2, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer" "Catholic Replies" by James J. Drummey
Q. Our parish Is holding an enneagram basic workshop. Just what is that and how does our Catholic Church see it?-G.T.C., Indiana, and K.D., Indiana.
A. For some good information about the enneagram, and its incompatibility with Catholic teaching, see chapter five ("Occult Roots of the Enneagram") of Fr. Mitch Pacwa's book Catholics and the New Age (Servant Publications). Moral theologian Msgr. William B. Smith has also cautioned Catholics about the dangers of the enneagram. Writing in the March, 1993 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Msgr. Smith said:
"The enneagram is a circular diagram on which nine personality types are systematically represented at nine equidistant points on the circumference. Lines connect various points to each other. It is this diagram itself which is the enneagram, and it is used as a psychological tool of self-discovery. Each of the nine personality types (numbered 1 through 9) is described negatively by some compulsion, fixation, or basic driving force to avoid something unpleasant. This compulsion is seen as one's basic psychological orientation. To discover your number, you have to realize what you seek to avoid, what your compulsion is....
"The basic premise of the enneagram is that there are nine and only nine personality types; this is simply given as true, it is nowhere demonstrated as proven. To my knowledge, there are no scientific studies to determine whether enneagram theory can be integrated with other typologies; but that would not really bother some advocates one way or the other.... The more you read about it, the more it begins to resemble a college-educated horoscope; and that is not compatible with Catholic doctrine or practice....
"As a tool for spiritual direction, it seems to me most deficient, even dangerous. The enneagram is really built on a theology (?)-perhaps ideology-of self-renewal and self- regeneration that is a far cry from (perhaps contradiction of) the Gospel teaching: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit' (John 12:24)....
"Pope John Paul II said on Nov. 1st, 1982: 'Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).' The enneagram is not the Way, nor is it the Truth, and on those bases not truly compatible with-much less essential to-the Life in Christ."
To order: The New Age: A Christian Critique
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