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Post-Publication Observations and Comments

Two years after this article appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on March 5, 2003 jointly released the document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age. The last sentence of §1.4 of this document of the Magisterium condemns by name the use of the enneagram by Catholics.

The EnneagramNo good deed goes unpunished!

At least, that was how I felt at the time. It was March 13, 2001. The article below was fresh on the newstands of Chicago in the April, 2001 edition of the revered orthodox theological journal Homiletic and Pastoral Review. At the moment my Novice Director, Redemptorist Father Joseph Hurley, CSsR, in a less-than-subdued pique of rage, was handing me a one-way ticket out of town on United Airlines — due on a flight in a little more than an hour! My aspirations to become a Redemptorist priest were at an abrupt end. So, too, eighteen years of dedicated hard work as a Redemptorist Lay Collaborator.

So also ended an episode of my life that had begun in September, 2000. This article originally was in two pieces I had written that month. One piece I had presented to the Director of Novices and his Associate, Redemptorist Father Kevin Fraher, CSsR, before a long retreat on the Enneagram was to begin. The second piece I presented to them after the retreat. The purpose of the retreat, of course, was to indoctrinate us novices with the teachings of the Enneagram.

Unbeknownst to me, someone else was writing about the Enneagram that summer of 2000. Fr. J. Augustine DiNoia, O. P. is the Director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, and at the behest of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, he, too, had prepared a draft document on the alarming spiritual dangers of the Enneagram. In the transmittal memorandum Fr. DiNoia (on behalf of the Sacred Vatican Congregation, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, and the whole Bishops’ Secretariat), expresses grave reservations about the Enneagram, and affirms that “the Enneagram raises serious doctrinal concerns when employed as a methodology of spiritual growth.”

Remember one thing and fix it firmly in your mind. Fr. DiNoia and I have never met. I did not have an opportunity to read his draft report until after my expulsion from the Redemptorists. As you will see below, I was under strict orders not to read Fr. DiNoia’s draft. I would also like to mention that at the time I wrote this article for publication, I was unaware that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had directed the American bishops to do something about the Enneagram.

How far are the New Age disciples infesting the Catholic Church willing to go? The draft that Fr. DiNoia sent to the bishops was supposed to have been held in strictest confidence by all of them. In a personal correspondence to me after the fact, Fr. DiNoia disclosed that the draft had been stolen from his personal computer in his office at the NCCB. Sounding an even more sinister note, he confided and intimated the high probability that a bishop was the culprit! The pirated document then had been given in secret to lackeys of the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper that is well known neither for its impartiality nor for its love of things Catholic. Predictably, the NCR then published a scathing editorial lambasting the U. S. Bishops and the Sacred Vatican Congregation for taking a stand (which the bishops had not yet actually and formally done) against the “benign and harmless use of the Enneagram by Catholics.” Clearly, the Enneagram disciples, at the behest of their gurus, were attempting to preëmpt the bishops and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

When NCR made DiNoia’s draft available at its web site, the Director of Novices and his Associate Director strictly ordered me not to use the office computer for going online. This puzzled me. I had never, not even once, used the computer in the office for any purpose, much less for “surfing the ’net.” I observed that the other novices continued to use the office computer to surf and to send and receive emails. I did not understand my Novice Director’s strict order, but I accepted and obeyed it wholeheartedly, nonetheless. Naïvely, I was utterly mystified as to what his particular concerns about me might be, when (after all) the whole novice house was avidly “surfing the ’net” every night for hours on end. After the editorial in the NCR came out, it became very clear — the Director of Novices and his Associate director, both of whom are ardent Enneagram enthusiasts and practitioners, did not want me to see the DiNoia draft, a link to which was published in the NCR, along with its scathing editorial about it!

The links above are all on the NCR web site, with the exception of the link to the article as it was published in the April, 2001 Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Take some time to peruse Father J. Augustine DiNoia’s work, so that you can compare my article with his. My historical treatment is briefer than his, but he and I clearly draw from the same sources — and both of us reach very similar conclusions. My penetration of the theological issues at stake is less cursory, but my article was intended, from the start, to penetrate such issues — that is precisely why Father Kenneth Baker, S. J. decided to publish it in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, a theological journal.

There is one point that Father DiNoia makes that I altogether missed, however:

The Enneagram has a DIABOLICAL ORIGIN!!

“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12[RSV]).

KNEW IT ALL THE TIME! But read the last chapter of the Bible, dear reader. WE WIN! To God and to His Christ, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come, be all glory, praise, honor, and thanksgiving, now and forever. Amen!

Origins and History

The Enneagram is said by its enthusiasts to have originated within Sufism in Afghanistan in the centuries following the Islamic Conquest, perhaps about 800 A. D. 1 The broader consensus of scholars is, however, that the Enneagram is more likely to have arisen in Sufism no earlier than 1322, 2 if, indeed, it arose in Sufism at all (see below). This was the period when Sufism came to acquire “Neoplatonic and Oriental influences that provided its mode of expression . . . It is the tendency characterized as the ‘Unicity of Being’ (wahdat al-wujud) in which created being annihilates itself and is transmuted into the Divine and in which the world is God-made-manifest and God-set-forth.” 3 The influence of Parmenides is clear in this period, as also that of Brahmism and Avicenna. 4 Gnosticism loaned dualism to Sufism, as well as Gnosticism’s characteristic antitheses such as “body/bad, spirit/good; created/bad, Divine/good; man/bad, God/good.” 5 If the Enneagram originated in Sufism (and as shown below, there are compelling reasons to believe that this is a “creation legend” the origin of which actually only dates sometime between 1925 and 1949), then its proposal to define created persona in terms of its negative “dynamisms” stands explained.

After 1322, Sufism came to borrow heavily from Gnostic traditions. 6 Modern Sufism bears a Gnostic-like spiritual hierarchy: shaikhs hold a status in every respect comparable to Hindu gurus. Sufistic theology is pantheistic. 7 Sufism progressively declined after 1500, leaving few adherents today. 8 Twentieth-century Sufism is a form of pantheistic monism. 9 The Enneagram finds no mention in Webster’s Dictionary, 10 either of Melton’s works on world religions, 11 and Catholic University of America’s New Catholic Encylopedia. Anecdotally, Sufi friends of mine in San Diego were unfamiliar with the term, the glyph and the concepts behind the Enneagram, and this as late as 1997. 12 Enthusiasts aver that the complete silence until 1949 of Sufic literature and of literature of the West is due to the Sufis having guarded the Enneagram system as a secret oral tradition for many centuries. 13 The fact is, the Enneagram makes its first historical appearance, not in Sufic, but in French literature! (see next paragraph)

Before 1925, a Russian named Georgei Ivanovich Gurdjieff 14 fled the Revolution to France, where he set up in that year a center for esoteric knowledge at Fontainebleau. 15 The first book even mentioning the Enneagram actually did not appear historically until 1949, when Gurdjieff’s disciple, Peter Ouspensky, published a cursory six page account of it in his book In Search of the Miraculous. A brief eight page article about the Enneagram appeared in 1971 in the May Psychology Today, by Chilean psychiatrist Oscar Ichazo, a sometimes speaker at the avant-garde Esalen Institute in the United States. It was at the Esalen Institute in the 1970’s that the Enneagram was developed by Dr. Ichazo and his collaborators by introducing the Freudian/Jungian-sounding “types” and “indicators” along with their “descriptions.” 16 Subsequently, Dr. Ichazo’s collaborator Claudio Naranjo of Esalen Institute established a nationwide network of small Enneagram groups. Among Naranjo’s early students was Father Robert Ochs, S. J., who promptly began teaching a four-lecture unit on it in his religious experience classes at Chicago’s Loyola University. 17 The fad quickly spread among Jesuits and then to other religious orders.

Enneagram Highlights: the 1984 Beesing—Nogosek-O’Leary Text

The Enneagram symbol (or glyph) is a circle surrounding a nine-pointed star, which represents the nine Gurdjieff-Ouspensky-Ichazo “personality types” into which, enthusiasts believe, all human beings can be sorted. 18 The nine personality types are considered to be false personalities 19 — defense mechanisms concealing compulsive neuroses. 20

The authors of this leading “Catholic” Enneagram text written in 1984 say the basic personality is and will always remain a “sin type.” 21 Learning what type it is offers the “new freedom” of awakened “self-criticism.” 22 This means “always having something to repent, something to confess as sin, something to make resolutions about for the future.” 23 The Enneagram: A Journey of Self-Discovery 24 consists mostly of descriptions of the nine types, which, like newspaper horoscopes, each include qualities recognizable in virtually everyone. It also offers advice about how to overcome each “compulsion” as well as describing each type’s “appropriate colors” 25 and “animal totems.” 26 This text represents an attempt to put the Enneagram in a Catholic perspective by referring to personality fixations as “sin” 27 and representing the “Enneagramic Jesus” 28 as a model of wholeness who possessed all nine personality types, yet lived them without the “sin of compulsion.” 29 The authors, astonishingly, fail to grasp the obvious contradiction between this last statement and the very axioms from which the Enneagram is derived: “Relating this phenomenon of ego consciousness to the nine personality types in the Enneagram is basic to the study of the compulsions in their cause.” [Emphasis added]. 30 Although I wrote the above analysis in 1990 in reviewing the text at the request of a friend, 31 a perusal of the subsequent texts by Zuercher, Palmer, and Riso confirms there is no compelling reason to alter it.

The 1995 Nogosek Text 32

Robert J. Nogosek, C. S. C. 33 in his 1995 text states that the Enneagram has the following axioms as origins. 34

Between the ages of four and six, 35 ALL children choose a stance toward the world outside themselves based on their self-concept: 36


I am bigger than the world,

a stance of HAUGHTINESS


I am smaller than the world,

a stance of STUBBORNNESS


I must adjust to the world,


ALL children choose a mode of behavior for each stance, one of the following for each stance: 37



against the world,




with the world,




from the world,


There are thus, according to enthusiasts, NINE Enneagram personality types. These they form mechanically in stance-mode pairs: 38




The Enneagram

























These nine are then arbitrarily and mechanically grouped into three triads (styled by enthusiasts as gut, heart, and head) of adjacent numbers, so that each triad receives one of the three stances:Triad 1 thus is arbitrarily formed by mechanically grouping 2-3-4 as heart personalities; triad 2 by grouping 5-6-7 as head personalities; and triad 3 by grouping 8-9-1 as gut personalities.

Before I had an opportunity to read Nogosek’s The Enneagram: Journey to a New Life (during the weekend of September 23 - 24, 2000, urgently directed to do so by my Novice Director), I had written to my Novice Director stating that “The authors of a leading ‘Catholic’ Enneagram text written in 1984 39 say the basic personality is and will always remain a ‘sin type.’” 40 I also said concerning this assessment, based on an analysis of current literature 41 on the subject of the Enneagram that “there is no compelling reason to alter it [i. e., my assessment].” The personality types, the ego fixations, of the “Catholic” Enneagram systems ARE indeed “sin-types.” 42

Nogosek agrees, rightly calling each of the nine personality ego fixations a sin type. Accordingly, enthusiasts draw arrows on the lines moving away from each number, indicating (so they believe) the directions in which a directee must modify his behaviors in order to correct his averred ego fixation. For example, if a directee is a “1” sin type, his guru instructs him to modify his behaviors in the direction of a “4” or a “7” sin type — in order to overcome the ego fixation of his “1” sin type.

Continuing with our example which used the “1” sin type, this means that a directee’s guru seeks to modify the directee’s behaviors from stubbornness-combativeness in the direction of either a “4” — stubbornness-disconnectedness — or a “7” — stubbornness-capitulation. Hence, enneagram spiritual direction consists in confirming a directee in a sinful stance while at the same time encouraging him to indulge in the sin of a complementary mode.


The enthusiasts terminate their discussion here, having thus arrived at their final and logical conclusion. To any Christian’s mind, the enthusiasts present an appalling absurdity. THE ENNEAGRAM’S PATH TO PERFECTION IS THROUGH CONFIRMING AND INDULGING IN SIN — and not in the practise of the habits of virtue prompted and assisted by God’s grace, as Christians everywhere commonly think. The Catholic Church has confronted this antinomian principal before — it was central to the doctrines of the Manichæans, Albigensians, Cathars, Waldensians, Nicolaitans, Docetists, Marcionites, Carpoeratians, Antinomianists — in other words, it always was, now is, and will forever remain, central to Gnostic moral thought. More about this later.

MORE — What is bad for you to do is good for me to do. What is bad for me to do is good for you to do. Your evil is the path to my virtue. My evil is the path to your virtue. I have my truth, and you have yours. Goodness, virtue, and truth are relative, dependent solely upon the perceptions of the perceiving subject — and not by reference to the real object existing outside the mind. Thus, spiritual direction that engages the enneagram explicitly embraces and promotes the praxis of moral relativism.


Thus, the fundamental question comes down to this. Is the choice between evil modes and evil stances really the only option that kids are faced with? Is it really inevitable that kids will make one of three predetermined evil choices for a mode of behavior? Is it really inevitable that kids will make one of three predetermined evil choices for a stance toward the world outside themselves? And if it is inevitable and predetermined, how can the choice in any sense be considered sinful? In fact, if it is inevitable and predetermined, how can it even be called a choice? If there is no choice, there is no freedom. Yet, it is precisely to freedom that Baptism restores us. So the Enneagram radically denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1250: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.[Cf. Council of Trent (1546): DS 1514; cf. Col 1:12-14.]” and §1282: “Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a GRACE and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.” and §1742: “FREEDOM AND GRACE. The GRACE of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of GRACE, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of GRACE the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world: Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful, so that, made ready both in mind and body, we may freely accomplish your will.[Roman Missal, 32nd Sunday, Opening Prayer: Omnipotens et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude, ut, mente et corpore pariter expediti, quae tua sunt liberis mentibus exsequamur.]” Because it is irreformably deterministic, the Enneagram radically denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1266: “The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying GRACE, the GRACE of justification: (1) enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues; (2) giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and (3) allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.”

Since the mechanisms of sin are at the root of all human behavior, the Enneagram denies the power of grace to lead men into a life of virtue. Hence, the Enneagram denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1810: “Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine GRACE. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.” and §1811: “It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ's gift of salvation offers us the GRACE necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this GRACE of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.”

The Enneagram empowers and enables its enthusiasts to perennially find base and depraved motivations in every good act that they observe in another person. Hence, the Enneagram radically denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2005: “According to the Lord's words ‘Thus you will know them by their fruits’[Mt 7:20 .] - reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of others, especially the saints, offers us a guarantee that GRACE is at work in us and in others and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.”

The Enneagram deconstructs human nature in the most pessimistic terms. It denies the power of grace to transform sinful fallen man into a son of God, empowered to goodness, overflowing with the justice and righteousness of God. Hence, the Enneagram radically denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2082: “What God commands he makes possible by his GRACE.”

The Enneagram portrays Jesus Christ as one who possessed all nine Enneagram “sin-types” yet somehow lived them without the “compulsion of sin.” They thus put the horse before the cart. Jesus Christ possesses a fully human nature, as God the Father eternally willed that nature to be, utterly obedient and docile to the Divine Will. By Baptism, we are conformed to Jesus Christ, not the other way around. Hence, the Enneagram radically denies the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1701: “‘Christ, . . . in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation.’[GS 22.] It is in Christ, ‘the image of the invisible God,’[Col 1:15 ; cf. 2 Cor 4:4 .] that man has been created ‘in the image and LIKENESS’ of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the GRACE of God.[Cf. GS 22.]”


The term scientism is used in philosophy to designate philosophical opinions that masquerade as scientific truths. The Enneagram is replete with them.

The Enneagram is an example of universal mechanism. When adapted to anthropology, universal mechanism manifests itself as pessimism with regard to the will of man, a certain deterministic scepticism with respect to the human capacity for intelligently choosing in favor of the good, and the perennial search for mechanical solutions that eschew inviting persons to work out thoughtful and relevant solutions in harmonious concord and concert with other people. The scientist proffers the vacuum cleaner with the promise of increased leisure, but is unable to tell us what to do with the resulting free time. The inventor presents us the automobile, but does not foresee the air and water pollution, deaths caused by inattentive drivers, and the advent of a new social institution, the junk yard. After premising that every cultural good is relative, the health worker pushes a box of condoms into our hands, a mechanical solution that is deemed a good in the culture of the health worker, but alien nonetheless in the cultural context of the recipient.

Enneagram enthusiasts see an Enneagram system as being at the root of ALL human behavior. 43 The 1995 text by Nogosek reaffirms that NOBODY has the power to change their “sin type.” 44 The question (of course) for anybody, but especially a Catholic, is “Are the preceding two assertions true? Is any of this really true?”

Scientific Problems with Enneagram Systems

A person might, on superficial inspection, conclude that the varied and often wildly disparate “indicators”, “descriptions” and “dynamisms” proposed by different enthusiasts have a scientific ring, and further conclude thereby that some scientific method was used to arrive at them. The contrary is true. The Enneagram comes from each author full-blown, the grouping of each “description” essentially depending only on the whim, tastes and a priori prejudices of the author. Ouspensky’s 1949 (and the first historical) “indicators” are brief and sketchy to say the least. Moreover, those of only “type 4” are discussed in detail in the next historical document, the 1971 article 45 by Chilean psychiatrist Ichazo: development of the other eight was at that time “in development and review stages.” Predictably, Ichazo’s discussion does not resemble Ouspensky’s except in the use by both of the Enneagram glyph.

The various Enneagram systems have each developed outside the mainstream sciences, and their originators deny the applicability of the scientific method. In the “human” (behavioral) sciences, the same basic method, proceeding from positivist empirical principles, is applied as is utilized in the natural sciences. That is a method which entails, at a minimum, the following stages: (1) a rigorous identification of researcher philosophical prejudices and a priori assumptions, (2) hypothesis formulation, (3) determination of experimental criteria designed to test the hypothesis, (4) collection of the data pursuant to the experimental criteria, (5) statistical analysis of the results and responses (including analysis of variance, explanation of outliers, establishment of error and confidence levels, etc.), (6) acceptance or rejection, on statistical or logical grounds, of the hypothesis(es) (often including sensitivity and threshold analysis), (7) what has been often styled an “examination of conscience” to determine if the trial/experiment was actually designed correctly (i. e., to isolate the hypothetical parameters), (8) peer review and (9) publicizing the study (sometimes publication, but these days often it means to make the data and their interpretation available on the Internet, too). The purpose of publicizing the study, thus making it freely available to all potential critics, is not to make a name for the researcher, but, paradoxically, to make it possible for another researcher to blow the study out of the water. A study that is above scientific reproach is the ultimate objective.

Likewise missing is the use of “blind” control groups from a population to be sampled. Instead, the method employed by the Enneagram enthusiasts is one guaranteed to reinforce acceptance 46 by subjects participating in Enneagram “workshops.” 47 Reinforcement is a phenomenon seen commonly enough among behavioral science practitioners, especially clinicians, and is the primary reason that publication of claimed clinical response to prescribed therapy generally is suspect in the behavioral sciences. 48

The frustrating thing about talking with Enneagram enthusiasts is that the vital importance of mutual subject reinforcement issues, rigorous analysis, published studies and criticism by peers (especially by experts in other fields) generally is lost on them. Instead, the Enneagram and its axioms are accepted irrationally by them. They expend their vitriole on those who merely suggest to them that the Enneagram does not represent a scientific hypothesis or theory that bears testing that is appropriate to any such scientific hypothesis or theory. But by doing this, they reveal the Enneagram for what it actually, really and truly is. The Enneagram stands revealed as something that transcends science. It can be described as nothing less than a religious dogma.

The Enneagram, as stated before, has “descriptions” or “dynamisms” that read like those for esoteric systems like tarot, astrology, biorhythms, etc. Unlike some “personality type indices” 49 the Enneagram remains untested by any scientific study. It is likely (and entirely safe to say) that its adherents and enthusiasts would never tolerate the findings of such a study. 50 Like Sufism, the “dynamisms” adopted in each of the nine “types” depends on which guru or shaikh you prefer. There are as many ways of constructing groupings and interpreting the Enneagram as there are gurus. So the only apparent similarity the Enneagram shares with the behavioral sciences is its lack of a paradigm. 51

What are we to make of the three stances of all those four to six years old children? As Nogosek notes in the 1995 text, Jung 52 knew of four. Jean Piaget describes more than twenty, but these represent only those he empirically studied in the course of a whole lifetime; he admits to believing that there must be many, many more. 53 Hence, according to the published findings and research of the best minds in the behavioral sciences, the stances of even the youngest children are far richer and more complex than the simplistic negative generalizations that are axiomatic to the Enneagram enthusiasts.

What are we to make of the three modes of behavior that all those four to six years old children demonstrate? Anyone who has the opportunity to observe children playing “dress-up” or playing “house” knows better. We find, for example, behavior exhibiting responsibility, sympathy, mercy, tenderness, affection, deference, etiquette, diligence, altruism and many, many more. In short, the modes of behavior of even the youngest children, like the stances they adopt toward the world, are far richer and more complex than the simplistic negative generalizations that are axiomatic to the Enneagram enthusiasts. 54

What about that cut-off point, “ALL four to six years old children?” 55 Scientists know that by age two-and-a-half normal children already have mastered the rudiments of syntax including, but not exclusively limited to, the six verb persons: first person, singular and plural; second person, singular and plural; and third person, singular and plural. 56 It is ridiculous, putting the cart before the horse, to postulate that a child can talk about himself, you, and others before adopting both a stance and a mode of behavior regarding each of these. Anthropological linguistics, therefore, knows many more than nine stance-mode pairs, one for every object in the child’s range of experience, and this in children younger than three years old!

The trajectory of discovery in every science in the last five centuries is the resolution and distinction of greater and greater detail. Isaac Newton knew nothing of the photoelectric effect, relativity and atoms. Albert Einstein did not know about protons, electrons and neutrons. Nils Bohr knew nothing of quarks, neutrinos and mu-mesons. In the behavioral sciences, Freud described five psychoses. The present Manual of Abnormal Psychology describes the symptoms and diagnoses of more that twenty-six hundred, and more are added with each new edition. The Enneagram defies the trend set by all the other sciences by its retrograde reversion to describing and teaching as dogma nine negative, demeaning and false generalizations about human personality. There is a good reason why.

The Enneagram is pseudo-science.

The Enneagram: Neo-Calvinism, Neo-Jansenism, Neo-Gnosticism

Some have made the outrageous assertion that their attempts to put the Enneagram into a Catholic perspective must be seen in the same vein as the accomplishments of St. Thomas Aquinas vis-à-vis his theological synthesis of Plato, Aristotle and Catholic teaching. 57 They cite the controversy that surrounded the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, and say that the criticisms of the Enneagram systems they advocate are the same as those leveled at St. Thomas. Returning the issue to the real world, it must be stated that St. Thomas was never charged with antinomian Gnosticism, and his writings register not even the slightest hint that human nature (or any created nature) is inherently and irreformably corrupt. Likewise, it is preposterous to propose that St. Thomas’ moral vision terminates in moral relativism — as does the Enneagram.

Enneagram enthusiasts trumpet the marvellous way that they have been able to fit the seven capital sins of the Bible into each of the nine Enneagram personality types, noting that they only have to add two more capital sins to compose a “perfect fit.” 58 Like Joseph Smith, or perhaps Mohammed, Enneagram enthusiasts are able to see clearly, and to supply, what God inadvertently forgot to include in the Bible.

Some have stated that the Enneagram may be favorably compared with twelve step programs. This is not the case. Alcoholics Anonymous makes no claim that ALL people are alcoholics.

If comparison must be made, then let it be with the theological systems of the Calvinists and Jansenists, systems which hold for the utter depravity of human nature.

Enneagram systems, because their “top-most” axioms are rooted in a view of human nature that is in their essence pessimistic (the stances, the modes, and the resulting ego fixations, which are “sin-types”), are by definition Gnostic. 59 But human nature (indeed, every created nature) was created very good from the very beginning, 60 and Catholics hold as true the teaching that even original and personal sin are incapable of utterly obliterating this goodness in the nature and in each particular. 61 Enneagram enthusiasts fail to reconcile clear and convincing evidence of positive stances and modes of behavior even in the youngest children 62 with the Enneagram. The Enneagram, postulated on the “roots of evil” in human behavior, cannot be reconciled with a Catholic view of the “roots of goodness” also present in human nature. Moreover, the empirical sciences and simple personal observation (which is accessible to the powers of everyone) tell us that the Catholic view (human behavior is rooted not only in “roots of evil” but also in “roots of good”) is the correct one. Isaiah 7:15-16 says that the earliest stance of any child is with respect to good and evil. 63 The Catholic view is a truly holistic view of human nature and human personality. The Enneagram view is a Gnostic (hence truncated) view.

The opposition between the Catholic Personalist view and the Gnostic Enneagram view has clear implications for spiritual direction. 64 Catholic Personalism flows from a correct anthropology, while the Enneagram flows from a false one.

More Catholic Problems with Enneagram Systems

There is no commonly accepted definition of “personality.” 65 The enthusiasts fail to define the term as well, even for the purposes of discussion. Confusion of “person” (a particular instantiation) and “nature” (common to all) arises from freely attributing aspects of either to the other. This then extends to a confusion of “person” and “nature” in regard both to ordinary men and to Jesus Christ, who assumed a true human nature, became a real particular human person, a man, while remaining the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity fully possessing the divine nature. Confusion here in turn presents further difficulties to the Catholic mind.

Enneagram gurus use Catholic terminology in equivocal ways without distinguishing between the different senses in which words and terms may be used. Often, this equivocation begins with defining (usually implicitly) distinctively Catholic words and terms in novel ways that are nonetheless not consonant with a Catholic understanding of them. Thus, we find confusing discussions of species, nature and individual substance, accident and defect, original sin and redemption, divine energies and works, conversion and repentance, mystical consolation and desolation, sin and compulsion 66 and many others. Hence, the Enneagram enthusiasts use Catholic forms and terms to express something different from what the Catholic Church has always taught. The vocabulary they use is distinctly Catholic, but they have changed the meaning, and are guilty of “perverting the meaning and force of things and words.” 67

Catholics affirm Sirach 33:11 , holding that God created each particular man different from every other man. 68 Gurus equivocate in order to obscure the unity, simplicity and beauty contained in this Catholic belief, thereby defeating it. 69 What is common to all mankind is human nature, one only species or kind. The Enneagram would superimpose an unnecessary onerous overburden of nine “personality types” upon the wonderful and awesome simplicity of the Plan born of the Divine Wisdom. Catholics affirm that the personality of each human being is “unique and irrepeatable.” 70

Enneagram gurus refer to the acquisition by four-years-old children of the nine personality types as “original sin” 71 and not as consequences of it. The nine Enneagram “compulsions” are seen by these gurus as intrinsic to human nature and, hence, to human substance. For this very reason, they also aver that the Enneagram compulsions cannot be changed, and we carry them throughout life, to the grave. They thus at least implicitly deny the power of grace to change or obliterate a person’s “sin type.” But what perdures in a nature is in the individual substance, and what does not perdure is an accident of the individual substance (when it is not a defect). So the “sins of compulsion” are in the nature, while the good is not, according to the axioms of the Enneagram. It follows that the good that Catholicism says is in the nature, and thereby the individual human substance, is at best no more than an unimportant accident according to the Enneagram. This is akin to saying that the good in human nature has the character of mere semblance or appearance. This is borne out in practise. Even the noblest deed is seen by Enneagram enthusiasts as having a hidden sinister motivation in the background: “The fireman was gravely injured when he saved the baby from the house fire, but it was really because he craved the praise and approval he knew it would bring.” 72 Ironically, one may, by the same logic, conclude that so also their strenuous efforts and writings to promote the use of the Enneagram by Catholics are motivated by the basest of intentions!

Do enthusiasts intend to present universally defective “personality” as a “psychological” version of original sin? 73 But in fallen man, original sin is a flaw in nature, not a personal sin to be confessed. Are these nine “types” flaws in the nature, like original sin? Then the Enneagram partitions nine species from what Catholics (and real science) believe is only one. Are the nine “types” to be understood as accidents of a human substance, like age, hair color, or posture? Accidents are beyond the capacity of freedom to choose that human beings possess by nature ( Matthew 10:30 ; parallel, Luke 12:7 ). The nine “types” then would deny freedom to repent and the freedom to sin. Personal defect is never an accident of a human substance, but a lack where there ought to be an abundance, an absence of some good where it ought to be found. And so, blindness is lack of sight in the eye, where it ought to be present. If the Enneagram seeks to set forth the “types” as species of moral defect present by nature in each human being, then the unique capacity of each human person to sin in his own peculiar and different way is denied. But there is only one partitioning into “types” of human beings that Catholics affirm, and that is human nature itself.

Generalization from particulars is a power of the human mind, but it is never used as a means of labelling, and thereby depersonalizing and dehumanizing, particular human beings. A label is always smaller than the person we stick it on. This is very clear when we say mathematician or bigot or liberal. Likewise, “I’m a ‘4’” conveys no true understanding of myself, and neither does “he is a ‘2’” convey the deep truth about what he is in se. The Enneagram is inherently a depersonalizing and dehumanizing system for “understanding” persons, in the extreme. This is so because the numeric label it sticks on persons not only is too small for a real human being, but like namecalling in the school yard, the meaning of the label is based entirely on the most derogatory and provocative possible assumptions and terminology.

If personality is defined as, or even in terms of, “compulsion” then sin cannot be seen as a free act for which the sinner is culpable. It follows that no man is free to sin and is hence sinless. Simultaneously, it follows that “personality” cannot be attributed to Jesus, who has no weaknesses and who is utterly without sin. What about the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin and preserved in perfect sinlessness throughout her life? Or St. John the Baptist, who became sinless after his conception in Elizabeth’s womb at the Visitation? 74 Or the “host of ancient ones who were perfected even before the Incarnation” and who were described by St. Justin Martyr? 75 Or even the saints in heaven? Likewise, it follows that an honest man who is unable to see himself in any of the Enneagram “dynamisms” would be led thereby to conclude, perhaps falsely, that he has no “sin” and, even worse, no personality! But any finite arbitrary list of human failings by necessity must fall short of listing all the possible ways in which the human heart can fall short of God’s original plan and will for our race and its nature, and every particular human (and therefore personal) being (see Jeremiah 17:9-10 below).

A Catholic is unable to use Genesis 1:26-27 , Genesis 1:31 , Isaiah 7:15-16 , Jeremiah 17:9-10 , Sirach 33:11 , Romans 14:16 , 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 , 1 Corinthians 4:5 , 2 Corinthians 5:21 , 1 Timothy 4:4 , and Hebrews 4:15 , inter alia, as premises and arrive at “Enneagram” as a conclusion. Catholics reject Gnostic dualism and its many proposals through the centuries to define or understand created/creaturely personality merely in terms of negative and arbitrary “dynamisms.” 76 Catholic Personalism (as explicated, proposed and advocated by Pope John Paul II) rejects the notion espoused by Enneagram enthusiasts that “the outcome of social interactions can be controlled by an understanding of the compulsions that drive our own and others’ sinful behavior [emphasis added].” 77

All Gnostic forms 78 share in common two characteristics (among others already mentioned): (1) the imparting to initiates of the “the words of knowledge” (gnosis) that lead to spiritual enlightenment and (2) the belief that noninitiates lacking this gnosis thereby lack something of the “key of knowledge” leading to enlightenment (i. e., Gnosticism nurtures, fosters and inculcates elitism in its followers). Catholics affirm that there is only one Way, Truth and Life, that salvation lies in following and trusting Him alone, and that He is the one Word given to men by which they are to be saved, and that He is the necessary and sufficient Savior of the world, and that this knowledge is freely available for all. Human knowledge, what used to be called science, does not save. The Enneagram purports to impart this kind of knowledge. Catholics might justifiably say, “not gnosis, but Logos.”

The Enneagram is a Gnostic system.


There is no conflict between faith and reason. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” 79 Hence, it has been rightly said that “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind must reject because it is false.”

One is reminded that the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion had not a Jewish, but a French Napoleonic era provenance — and that it was revived and exploited by an employee of Czarist intelligence in 1905 to harm the Jews. Likewise, the methods of historical criticism disclose that there is no way to link Sufism and Enneagram systems. Assertions to the contrary probably unfairly connect Sufism with what are essentially superstitious systems that have no basis in science.

Advocacy of the Enneagram by some Catholics is more problematic. One enthusiast even has made the astonishing assertion that the Enneagram is “incarnational spirituality.” 80 On the contrary, the Gnostic roots manifest in all Enneagram systems guarantee that Enneagram systems can never be reconciled with the Sacred Deposit of Faith, much less with the venerable and ancient theological traditions of our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches.

Catholic Enneagram enthusiasts are in the same shoes as the Inquisition, which sought from Galileo adherence to its own superstitious views, clear and convincing scientific evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Enneagram enthusiasts risk bringing upon the whole Catholic Church the same lasting scandal, scorn, ridicule and indignation that the Galileo Affair brought about (with effects that are still being felt even at the present time).


I grant that some directors might sincerely believe in the use of the Enneagram. Sincere belief means that they also adopt the view that “dynamisms” represent “sins” and “compulsions that drive sinful behavior.” These, then, represent the matter of sacramental Confession. Canon Law (Book IV, Title IV) guarantees the right of privacy of matters occurring and transpiring between a penitent and his confessor, extending even to the right not to confess one’s sins face-to-face but from behind any obstacle that completely conceals the identity of the penitent. 81 It follows that novice directors must refrain from even the slightest suggestion that their subjects “put on parade for the whole world to see” their Enneagram “types” and “dynamisms.” Needless to say, even the merest appearance of compulsion on the part of directors in this respect is to be assiduously avoided. 82

In the Catholic Church, spiritual direction is a charism at the service of the prayer life of the Church:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2690: The Holy Spirit gives to certain of the faithful the gifts of wisdom, faith and discernment for the sake of this common good which is prayer (spiritual direction). Men and women so endowed are true servants of the living tradition of prayer.

According to St. John of the Cross, the person wishing to advance toward perfection should “take care into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son.” And further: “In addition to being learned and discreet a director should be experienced . . . If the spiritual director has no experience of the spiritual life, he will be incapable of leading into it the souls whom God is calling to it, and he will not even understand them.” (St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanza 3, 30, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, eds K. Kavanaugh OCD and O. Rodriguez OCD [Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979], 621.)

which is a means of personal holiness through conversion, i. e., growth in conforming one’s whole life to that of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1435: Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.

Hence, by necessity enneagram spiritual direction turns Catholic spiritual direction on its head! The above analysis of the texts written by the Enneagram gurus shows that their spiritual direction takes the appalling and absurd form of instructing directees to instead indulge the vices that complement their sin type. This is more than dangerous — it is spiritual homicide.

Take the advice of St. John of the Cross given above. Have nothing to do with such as these! They have no understanding — because “The truth is not in them.” (II John 2:4 [RSV]). They have no experience of the spiritual life — because the Life of Christ is not in them: “Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20 [RSV]).

The best advice of all? Hebrews 13:9 (RSV) — Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace. and 1 Corinthians 14:20 (RSV) — Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature.



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