What Is The Enneagram?

What Is The Enneagram?  I have to admit, until very recently I wasn’t aware of the Enneagram.  I knew there was some controversy about using it in the Church.  But I had never taken the time to dive into it.  Now that I have, I’m not comfortable with it.  I’d like to take a few posts to talk about this popular personality test, and what spiritual ramifications it might have for us Christians.

What is the Enneagram?

On the surface, the Enneagram appears to be a simple personality test.  A questionnaire is given to help determine which of the 9 personality types you are. Each personality type has strengths (virtues) and weaknesses (vices).  The nine personality types are: 

  1. Reformer, Perfectionist
  2. Helper, Giver
  3. Achiever, Performer
  4. Individualist, Romantic
  5. Investigator, Observer
  6. Loyalist, Loyal Skeptic
  7. Enthusiast, Epicure
  8. Challenger, Protector
  9. Peacemaker, Mediator

The program has become popular in business circles as a way to judge team dynamics.  And more importantly for our discussion, as a way to spiritual enlightenment.  In both applications the Enneagram is seen as a tool to help with self-enlightenment and self-development.  

Where Did It Come From?

Like many new age ideas and teachings, the origin of the Enneagram is hard to pin down.  Some adherents claim the root of the movement was started by the 4th century Christian mystic Evagrius Ponticus.  Ponticus lived in Alexandria, and taught that there were 8 “deadly thoughts”, and one overarching though, “Love of self”.  Along with the 8 deadly thoughts, Ponticus had 8 “remedies” to these thoughts. 

G. I. Gurdjieff is believed to be the person responsible for creating the word Enneagram.  He also created the Enneagram symbol commonly associated with the movement.  

Oscar Ichazo (1931-2020) is credited with developing the 9 different personality types. Hailing from Bolivia, Ichazo began teaching self-improvement programs in the 1950’s. he implemented his ideas about the Enneagram into his teachings.  He tended to focus on ideas such as ego development, passions and virtues and holy ideas.  Ichazo founded a school in Chili before eventually relocating to the United States.

Claudio Naranio (1932-2019) was a student of Ichazo at hiss Chilean school.  Expounding on Ichazo’s ideas, he brought the Enneagram to the United States in 1970.  Interestingly enough, some of Naranio’s earliest followers were a small group of Jesuit Priests.  Ichazo and Naranio had a falling out over Naranio’s teaching, which Ichazo felt were not in line with his ideas on the Enneagram.

Claudio Naranio

How Did The Enneagram Gain Popularity In Christianity?

One of the Jesuit priests that became enamored with the Enneagram was Richard Rohr.  Rohr is a universalist (believing all people are saved no matter what).  He has written several books that have been widely criticized as outside the pale of both Catholic and Christian teaching.  Michael McClymond, professor of Modern Christianity at St. Louis University summed up Rohr’s teaching this way:

What Is The Enneagram?
Richard Rohr

“Though Rohr wraps himself in the mantle of Catholic and Franciscan spirituality, much of what Rohr presents contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church and historic Christianity.”

Rohr is one of the most popular and sighted personalities in the Christian Enneagram movement.  Other authors that champion the philosophy are Elizabeth Wagele, Helen Palmer and Don Richard Riso.  

Where Do We Go From Here? 

So what’s the big deal here?  Why do some people, especially Christians, get so worked up over the teaching of the Enneagram?  In my next post, we’ll look at the origin of many of the program’s founding principles and guiding philosophies.  You may be surprised at the amount of New Age ideology present in the Enneagram.  Have you had experience with using the Enneagram?  Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear from you!

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