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The Enneagram Theory of Personality, St. Catherine Review

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St. Catherine Review

The Enneagram Theory of Personality
Why it's use is incompatible with Christianity
(from the January/February 1999 issue)

ALTHOUGH A GOOD DEAL has been written about the fraudulence of the enneagram and its Theory of Personality, this system of typology continues to be enthusiastically embraced by not a few Catholic institutions. Last summer, for instance, in the June, July and August issues of Guardian Angels Press (GAP), parish newsletter for Guardian Angels Church in Cincinnati, parishioner Jerry Miller penned a three-part article on the popular practice of the enneagram, entitled "Reflections on the Spiritual Way."

The article presents a brief overview of the personality-typing theory which has been popular in Catholic circles for more than a few years now. It is taught by faculty members at Cincinnati’s Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, is commonly used in retreats, is promoted in Catholic high schools, and is discussed in official parish and diocesan publications. Clearly the appearance is given that the Church endorses, even embraces, this "spiritual way."

Miller explains in his GAP article that the purpose of the enneagram is "to discover one’s own type of driving force for one’s actions or energy directions which one pursues." According to various practitioners of the enneagram, he writes, this "theory of personality" is to be understood as "the mirror of the soul" and "a map to the psyche." Quoting Jesuit Father Anthony de Mello, whose writings were recently censured by the Vatican, Miller explains: "For some, the enneagram wakes us up to our blind side… If you use the enneagram as a technique to better understand yourself, it can help you on your pilgrimage."

In the Dec. 98/Jan. 99 issue of The Times of St. Mary, parish newsletter for St. Mary’s Church in Hyde Park (Cincinnati), an interview with Fr. Ray Aichele, director of spiritual formation at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati since 1986, reveals that Aichele presented the enneagram to St. Mary’s parishioners at their 1997 Lenten Series. "The idea is to become balanced, or free enough to let the face of God shine forth, to become free enough to be led by the Spirit," Aichele told The Times.

Incompatible with Christianity

However, there are issues surrounding the origins, practice and conclusiveness of the enneagram which render the Church’s endorsement a distinct impossibility. "It is incompatible with Christianity," Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. told SCR in a phone interview.

Pacwa, perhaps the Enneagram’s most vocal critic in the Catholic world, was, ironically, one of the first teachers of the "enneagram theory of personality." Pacwa, who is now a professor of Scripture Studies at the University of Dallas, taught at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati at the time and recalls that he used the enneagram during retreats. Since those early years Pacwa said that he did his "homework" and discovered the true origins of the enneagram. "Ultimately I quit teaching it because it didn’t work. It is neither theologically correct nor psychologically effective."

In the early 70’s Pacwa enrolled in an eight-day seminar at the Jesuit theology school in Chicago on the subject of the enneagram. He became "an instant expert," he says. He was taught by Jesuit Father Bob Ochs who had only just been introduced to the enneagram himself some months before. Ochs brought the new methodology back to Chicago from a workshop he attended at the Esalen Center in California.

The opening activity of the Ochs seminar, Pacwa relates in his book Catholics and the New Age (CATNA), "was stuffing small, round black pillowcases for use in seated meditation exercises." Learning the enneagram method involved physical exercises such as "rolling our heads around our necks to loosen the muscles and slowly jogging in place, while we imagined that we were picking grapes above our heads."

Ochs taught them a variety of meditative techniques in the seminar, says Pacwa. "We lay on the floor and imagined that we were burning logs turning into ashes. The goal was to let go of thought and identity and attain ‘no-mind.’" Ochs also explained to the students, mostly seminarians, that the nine personalities are located on the circle around an inner triangle and hexangle.

Ochs’ mediation exercises and physical activities were meant to free us from "the ego compulsions of our enneagram types," says Pacwa. "Their goal was spiritual enlightenment," he said, which Ochs’ called nirvana.

Basic objections

The enneagram theory of personality purports to be able to classify each person into one of nine personality types, based on a description of one’s basic character traits. Donna Steichen, author of Ungodly Rage: the Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism, believes that people find the enneagram attractive for the same reason they love to look up their horoscopes or take those quizzes in women’s magazines and Reader’s Digest (e.g. "How Loveable Are You?"). "It arises from endless fascination with their inner lives," she said. "The reason the personality descriptions sound plausible is that we have many common characteristics. Even horoscopes sound recognizable—especially about others than ourselves."

The enneagram, as Pacwa taught it, used to be to identify your principle obnoxious trait, which was referred to as your "toxic" or your "demon." It was explained, relates Pacwa, that there were nine demons and nine faces of God, one face to counteract each of the nine demons. "Nine faces of God?" asks Pacwa, "what does this say about the relevance of the Trinity?"

Pacwa explains that the most profound problem with the enneagram is its underlying theology. "The goal of the enneagram is different from the goal of Christianity," says Pacwa. "Redemption wrought by the cross is meaningless," he explained. "Redemption is not and cannot be integrated into the enneagram theory of personality. One sometimes hears, ‘I am a redeemed type three.’ This is sheer determinism."

Fabricated by an occultist

Enneagram teachers will almost always claim that they have nothing to do with the New age movement. It is important to note that many are "honest, but uninformed," says Pacwa. "They don’t understand the origins of the enneagram," he explained.

While practitioners and teachers of the enneagram claim that the system was used more than 2000 years ago by Suffi mystics in the Middle East, Pacwa says: "Impossible. The Suffis are a Moslem sect. Islam was founded only in 600 A.D.—1400 years ago."

Even so, roots of the enneagram as we know it, stretching from Chile in 1968 to the libertine Esalen Center in California in 1972, do not run deep: "This system was a complete fabrication based on instructions an occultist named Oscar Ichazo received from a spirit he was channeling," explained Pacwa, who uncovered this fact himself. Ichazo claimed to be in contact with long-dead Suffi mystics.

Ichazo is often credited as the man who brought the enneagram to the United States. In a sense that is the truth, says Pacwa. The diagram itself, with its 9-pointed star-like shape, was used by Suffi mystics for fortune-telling (as opposed to personality typing) as early as the first decade of the 20th century.

Pacwa explained that, according to Ichazo the channeled spirit directed him to take the seven capital sins and place them on the 9-pointed enneagram form. He needed two additional capital sins, so he added "deceit" and "cowardice," for a new total of nine capital sins. enneagram theories claim that we are "born divine, but then when we’re about three years old we cover over that divinity with an ego type. One of the "nine capital sins" is at the core of each ego type.

The personality descriptions were later applied to the enneagram by Karen Horney. Then Freud's defense mechanisms were added to each personality type. Thus, says Pacwa, while the 9-point diagram might be close to 100 years-old, the enneagram theory of personality was pushed through its birth canal by Ichazo thirty years ago in 1968. When Helen Palmer wrote a book about the enneagram (The Enneagram, 1988), Ichazo even brought a lawsuit against her, claiming that he "invented" the enneagram yet she wrote a book on it. Ichazo won the lawsuit.

"The mixture of so many non-Christian elements in the enneagram system," writes Pacwa in CATNA, "raises the need to be very careful about accepting it wholeheartedly. St. Paul instructs us, ‘Test everything; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thes 5:20-21). When we test the enneagram, we use the gospel of Jesus Christ as the norm by which we judge it. We do not use the enneagram to test the truth of the gospel."

—Michael S. Rose

RELATED ARTICLE: Jungian Nun Promotes the "God Within" [ St. Catherine Review ]


Further Reading:

Refutation of the New Age Movement

Holy Spirit Watch