The Enneagram

This afternoon I thought to relax and read a little. It was between reading the book of Luke or skimming some books from my un-skimmed/un-read book shelf. :slight_smile: I decided to explore the book shelf. Well, one of the books I just picked was The Enneagram: A Journey of Self Discovery by Maria Beesing, O.P, Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C. and Patrick H. O’Leary, S.J.

One of my hobbies is to go to book sales, used book stores, etc… and buy books on the Catholic Faith, Jewish Faith and Philosophy. I have about 5,000 all together but the total includes other topics. At the sales I go directly to the religion section and start putting in my bag the Catholic books and quickly anything written by a priest or that has a nihil obstat, etc…

So, this afternoon I selected this book which was written by two priests and a nun. They say that they are going to present a spiritual system which originated with Catholic monks and was taken to the east where it was adopted by the Sufis about 2,000 years ago and lost to the Church. And, I start rubbing my chin and kept reading.

Well, for a few minutes I found the personality type theory interesting but, it started to seem like the horoscope. I remember going to a presentation years ago from a visiting professor from maybe the University of Chicago who was specializing as a psychologist in personality. It was a new thing and not sure if there was enough there to specialize, but it was interesting. So, I kept reading this book also with the interest of psychology in my mind. Although, the writers quote the Bible they do not quote the Bible to justify or note how this system is Christian but, it is more like a use of the Bible to further express the theory.

I feel really good about myself. :slight_smile: I recognize that I am very ignorant about my faith in many things but, although this book was written by a nun and two priests I immediately decided that it was not Catholic. I just stopped to think, wait a minute; so when Jesus approaches us He is seeing us as a ‘type’ or is recognizing our character type :rolleyes:… I, of course, will not waist my time to finish skimming the book.

I thought to start a thread here and find out what other people thought about it, but then I googled it and found a pretty accurate evaluation by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., here:

So, I guess everyone knows that the enneagram is not Christian. What I find extraordinary is that religious and priests could have gone as far as to write a book on it and to even give retreats on such a spirituality which to a laity it becomes evident almost immediately that it is not Christian.

How can this come to pass?

The enneagram is NOT intrinsically Christian, and no respectable teacher would make such a claim. It is basically a meditative form of prayer in which the people move upon a particular path (which could be compared, after a fashion, to the Stations of the Cross). But, unlike the Stations, people of ANY faith could participate in such a practice, so it is not intrinsically Christian (or Catholic).

That doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically bad. Consider that Catholics light candles as part of devotions. Other faiths also light candles (and some - the Jewish Menorah comes immediately to mind - have been doing it a lot longer than we have). Lighting candles is not intrinsically Catholic. But it’s not bad.

Years ago, I first heard of the enneagram. I had no idea what it was, so I asked my brother (Father Eric Filmer, an accredited Catholic Answers Apologist, though he was in seminary at the time). He told me that several Catholic retreat centers had essentially become “enneagram retreat centers” and this concerned him, because the enneagram is not intrinsically Catholic. It can be WITHIN Catholicism, but it can also be equally OUTSIDE of Catholicism. It really depends on the disposition of the retreat leader.

But, given the choice between a truly Catholic retreat, and a retreat that could be considered non-denominational , the choice seems clear, at least to me.

I am surprise that Bishops are allowing this practice to continue. The enneagram is not Catholic. Period. It is based on a fortune telling, numerology system and the Church would not take from such systems and build upon them. These are not good foundations.

Even if the Church wanted to invite people to a spiritual retreat that was non-denominational it would not need to recourse to a pantheistic system whose psychological impact upon the person we do not know. Pacwa notes that Essine had to be close down due to the high rate of suicides.

"The Sufis are monists believing that we are all one with each other and with the universe and at the same time pantheists believing that the universe is god. So that’s why they’re not highly regarded in Islam, because they’re kind of Heterodox.

Inside the circle is a triangle, and it connects up the points of the 9, the 3 and the 6; and it symbolizes God. We should notice right away that it’s God inside the cosmos, not the cosmos inside Go"( Pacwa).

I don’t see how the enneagram can be within Catholicism. If the intention is to provide a non-denominational retreat there is a lot a Catholic retreat leader can use from Catholic spirituality which can be presented in a non-denominational scenario (if need be).

'Tis strange.

I recommend a book called Catholics and the New Age by Father Mitch Pacwa. The Enneagram is one of the topics he deals with in his book. He has really good insight into this and in his younger days (with the permission of his superior) attended an intensive 8 days seminar on The Enneagram.

There are all sorts of personality and temperamence systems, The myers-Briggs, Firo-B, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, etc. They are more psychological tools than anything else.,

Thanks, but for the moment the book I skimmed in the OP and the article of Pacwa was enough for me. :smiley:

Yes, but they do not have a place in the Catholic Church. Especially one that is being introduced as though it does, such as the enneagram. One of the things that I read (in the book mentioned in the OP) is the idea that we can find consolation with our suffering because they contribute to the birth pangs of the universe and so our suffering will help to speed up Jesus coming. As if there was a quantified amount of pain the universe must suffer in order for Jesus to return in all His glory. I also read about the idea that when Jesus ascended He became present in the whole universe. This means, like even in a piece of trash on the curb in the street, Jesus is present. It’s weird and I don’t see how anyone can argue that it is in harmony with Catholic teachings.

I also consider that the teachings of the Church are true and healthy. If Catholics lose their minds or commit crimes, it can not be said that it is because the Church and her teachings are unhealthy (although some people argue this by, for instance, claiming that priests can have sexual problems because they are forced to live celibate lives but, these claims are untrue and as such can not be substantiated). To say that, what the Church teaches is from God and it is good, but, these fly by night psychology theory can be very detrimental to humans and they simply have no place in the Church. The enneagram could bring people to desire suffering supposedly to bring about the coming of Jesus. It can easily become a very sick suicidal sect situation.

It looks like this whole enneagram thing was limited to a group of Catholics in the USA and is no longer present. In his article, Father Pacwa said that the clergy and religious that were praticing the enneagram either left the Church or are no longer practicing it. I hope this is the case.


@ OP:

Firstly, thanks for the link in OP–that was a great article by Fr. Pacwa. :tiphat:

Secondly/FWIW: I do the same wrt to “Catholic” books, though not nearly the volume you seem to (I’m in the low 100’s, vs. 5000). What I usually do, is buy as many as I can, ‘filter’ them, and donate the good ones–the ones with the Nihil Ostat/Imprimaturto my Parish library, so that anyone can check them out (although I’ve held on to probably 10 of my personal favorites–such as Confessions, City of God, Interior Castle, a couple of Catechisms to keep 'em handy…all of which the library already has anyway–(except for City of God)).

I volunteer this as a suggestion for some of your 5,000 books, and for others to consider doing (not to ‘toot my own horn’).

Third: I have read a few books similar in some respects to to what you’re describing here–such as The Catholic Warrior, by Robert Abel (which while ok in some respects, is laden with latent ‘protestantism’), and Joshua, by Josehp Girzone, which, if recollection serves, subtly promotes univalism–I may be mistaken as to exactly what the problem was with it…); another is called Son of Man, by Andrew Harvey–which is much worse than the other 2 perhaps even the one you mentioned, in totality–however, they all have some redeeming aspects. So I read them with a discerning mind, but take them out of circulation (NB–these are just a few examples that come to mind; I’ve read several others…). Some of these books–even if ‘bad’ over all, or contaminated with grave doctrinal error–can have some decent material/information in them, that may be of some use–but they must be read carefully, with a discernment, and preferably by ‘sophisticated’ readers with solid foundation in the Faith.

So, bottom line, imo, it is good to take the bad ones out of circulation (read cautiously, or throw 'em away…), and wrt to the good ones–consider putting them back into circulation, strategically, where there is a good chance that they can be used by some who could benefit from them.

Just a suggestion.

Oh, and final note–this discussion underscores the beauty and value of the Nihil Ostat/Imprimatur:


The same way that “centering prayer” can be practiced within Catholicism. It’s not Catholic in origin, and some non-Catholics might do it incorporating non-Catholic things, but you can be a good Catholic and practice centering prayer.

The Church has a long history of taking things of non-Catholic origin, removing any associations that are not in harmony with the Church, and incorporating them into Catholic life. The enneagram is no different. Catholics use it as a framework for meditation.

But, unlike incense, wedding rings, and Christmas trees, I really don’t like the enneagram - I think it is a new-age, empty practice whose time could be better spent in a more Catholic form of spirituality. But a person can be a good Catholic and still walk around a path in the grass and meditate. The shape of the path is irrelevant, unless the Catholic ascribes some non-Catholic association to it.

Hello DavidFilmer,

“Centering prayer” has no place in Catholic spirituality. You see, these Eastern systems people are trying to bring into the Church have no place in the Church. These systems do not recognize that the Church was founded by Our Lord Jesus and is guided by the Holy Spirit. I am not in command - God is. I cannot force God to do anything.

Here is a nice article I just read about centering-prayers:

"Besides the temptation to reject the material world in this approach there is another problem-indicated by Cardinal Ratzinger’s use of the word “oneself” in the last quote-the temptation to ascend to God by one’s own power or strength. In fact it is God’s choice, not ours, whether we enter the sphere of the divine. “God is free to ‘empty’ us of all that holds us back … to draw us completely into the Trinitarian life of his eternal love,” but this gift is granted “not through our own efforts.”

In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila noticed that as some Christians prayed they tried to stop thinking pre-mature, before God had given the grace of contemplation. In Interior Castle she said, “be careful not to check the movement of the mind … and to remain there like a dolt.” A century later, the church was confronted with a still more passive form of prayer in the teachings of Miguel de Molinos. It did not take long for “quietism” to be condemned.

Centering prayer’s advocates occasionally remind their readers that contemplation is indeed a gift from God, but their clear and constant message is that God will give the gift. Every time. To everyone who uses the method. Their insistence that anyone can master the Centering-prayer technique and their virtual guarantee of success will lead many to a do-it- yourself approach to contemplative prayer.

Centering Prayer

Rule 1: At the beginning of the prayer we take a minute or two to quiet down and then move in faith to God dwelling in our depths; and at the end of the prayer we take several minutes to come out, mentally praying the “Our Father” or some other prayer.

Rule 2: After resting for a bit in the center in faithful love, we take up a single, simple word that expresses this response and begin to let it repeat itself within.

Rule 3: Whenever in the course of the prayer we become aware of anything else, we simply gently return to the Presence by the use of the prayer word.

(Centering Prayer, by Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., pg. 65)

Contemplative Prayer

[When Gods calls a person to contemplative prayer] the soul is no longer inclined to meditate by itself, to reason on the great truths of faith so as to arouse itself to acts of love of God. It receives “a supernatural recollection” which it could never acquire by its own efforts and “which does not depend on our own will.” It is no longer the soul recollecting itself, it is God who recollects it and draws it toward the inner sanctuary. This is the beginning of contemptation, properly so called; it is infused since we cannot procure it for ourselves by our activity aided by grace… In contemplation “the soul understands that the divine Master is teaching it without the sound of words.” - - - Under this infused light “the soul is inflamed with love without comprehending flow it loves.”"

I have personally had the blessing of experiencing infused prayers and I know that it is not something that I myself can ever bring about as it is a gift from God. I cannot at will make it happen no matter what I do. Is God who decides and He can choose to bless you with infused prayers in the most hectic of days. So, it is not Catholic to think that we can do some physical or mental exercise to bring about infused prayers. The Catholic way is different.

Dear Goya, :slight_smile:
Thank you kindly for your advice. I do slowly eliminate from the collection the ones I no longer want. I am using the collection for now though. I am becoming an empty nester and have thought about minimizing the belongings and organizing things so when I pass away the kids will know what’s what. So, it’s a goal to minimize and organize, but, in the main I am using the books and I am enjoying them. My precious. :smiley: most will end up at the parish at some point. :wink:

So, true. :thumbsup: Thanks for the heads up on those other books. :rolleyes:

I just re-read the article about ‘centering prayers’ and I remembered visiting some friends for a summer in California. They were professionals and would practice a Hindu meditation in the the car between appointments. They would breathe deeply and say: "Om, Om, Om, Om Namah Shivaya , Om, Om, etc… " for fifteen minutes. While saying these words they would just try to focus on those words and not think of anything else. After fifteen minutes of doing this they were less stressed as they gave their minds a break from being preoccupied with daily concerns or whatever.

Centering prayer is simply replacing the Om Namah Shivaya with whatever Christians want to replace it with. However, the whole theory is inapplicable with Christianity because Christians do not want to detach themselves from the world when they are praying nor reach a mental state of mind where they are no longer thinking.
Om Namah Shivaya

Additionally, my understanding is that when we pray we are communicating with God not trying to transcend this existence and reach the divine (see luke 11.1).


Some of the personality and temperamence systems are used to screen vocations. They are simply psychological tools. One need not buy into everything Jung was about to use the Myers-Briggs Type indicator.

But the Enneagram? Well it has been 20 or 30 years asince I read anything about it. I recall that it seems to attempt to systemize our innate tendencies and how they can be good or bad depending on what we do with them.

You could be right. I really have no idea what it means. I know a lot more about the enneagram than I know about “centering prayer.” I cited it only because I know that the practice is popular among some contemporary Catholics.

But my point really has nothing to do with the practice itself, but about the Church’s ability to take almost ANY spiritual devotion, strip it of its non-Catholic elements, and offer it to the Catholic Faithful. The Church does not ADOPT these practices, but TRIUMPHS over them. The Church has done this A LOT. The Church did this in the capital city of the pagan Roman Empire. In less than 3 centuries, the Church went from being a few followers (not Roman citizens) of an executed leader, to become the dominant influence over the very city and government that executed Our Lord, with a Christian Emperor. The Church does not adapt - She conquerors!

If the Church could conquer the greatest Empire in the history of the earth, I think it is safe to assume that She can conquer any aspects of the enneagram that are not aligned with Catholic doctrine.

It might take a few years (it took nearly 300 years to conquer Rome, but that was a much bigger task). But I think it is absurd to claim or imply that the Church cannot conquer the enneagram and convert it to Her own use.

But, in the meantime, I would (as I have said before) discourage any association. Just as I would have discouraged a Roman from worshiping Nero. Just because the Church WILL win does not mean we OUGHT to engage in a particular practice. But many WILL (because they didn’t get the memo), and many will be misled and fall away (just as they did in the early Church), and the Church will triumph (as She did before), but at a loss (as She mourned before).

Isn’t Taize very similar to Centering Prayer?

I don’t know about its spirituality, but I know that the Taize Community has produced several musical “settings” and hymns for Catholic Mass that have been approved for general liturgical use in many Catholic jurisdictions (including mine). I know this because my wife was a cantor for several years, and we have a thick Taize hymnal on my bookshelf. These “settings” are among my favorites (and, FWIW, I am NOT a fan of folksy-style music - this is more along the lines of John Michael Tablot. Just because it’s “modern” does not mean it’s bad).

If the Church is universal it, in fact, must be able to take what has been helpful to every culture and let the light of Christ shine in it. All too often we associate “Catholic” with only Eurocentric language, history, images, practices and customs.

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