Is Pope Francis Really “Not Against” the Enneagram?

Austen Ivereigh, a journalist for the Catholic news website Crux, has written a post celebrating Pope Francis’s 80th birthday in which he claims that the Holy Father is “not against” the Enneagram, though he does have reservations about its misuse:

“Pope Francis, incidentally, knows the Enneagram well and is not against it. But he is wary of the way it can be misused and lead to excessive introspection if not deployed within a solid spiritual framework.”

In his post Ivereigh also wrote approvingly of the Enneagram, tracing its origin back to the Desert Fathers, the founders of early Christian monasticism:

“On the Enneagram, that personality-type identifier first created by the desert fathers which received its modern form from the Jesuits, Francis is an Eight – as Father Richard Rohr OFM, the leading Catholic authority on the Enneagram, has confirmed to me in an email. (Pope Francis, incidentally, knows the Enneagram well and is not against it. But he is wary of the way it can be misused and lead to excessive introspection if not deployed within a solid spiritual framework.)

The Enneagram has long been used in retreat houses to help people identify their core compulsion, usually a driving need or desire inherited from childhood which in adulthood needs to be ‘redeemed’ if it is not to hamper our ability to function and relate to others. Eights are paradoxically both leaders and rebels, life’s “challengers.” Fearless and intuitive, often breathtakingly blunt, they instinctively go against elites, and have an uncommon ability to identify injustice and oppression. They grasp power, and know how to build it and use it. They have an extraordinary capacity to improvise, to live on the fly, and to deal with pressure.

What they do with this gift depends on their spiritual capacity.  History, from King David onwards, is full of Eight leaders, some of them selfless and inspiring, while others were tyrannical demagogues. Mostly, they are a mixture. Martin Luther King was an Eight; so was Fidel Castro. So was St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who took a very Eight idea – agere contra, acting against – and turned it into a means of spiritual growth: to act against our compulsion helps to redeems it. Eights are typically sensitive types who as children develop a tough carapace in response to trauma”.

The Catholic Church’s official assessment of the Enneagram

The only authoritative assessment of the Enneagram issued by the Catholic Church is to be found in the 2003 examination of the New Age movement, Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life. It was promulgated by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The Holy See presents the Enneagram as the principle example of “New Age” gnosticism that is, in the words of Pope St John Paul II, in “conflict with all that is essentially Christian”. Having quoted Pope St John Paul II’s warning about this new manifestation of gnosticism, the document specifically identifies the Enneagram as a cause of “ambiguity in the doctrine and life of the Christian faith”:

Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian”. An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith. (1.4)

The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue also differ from Ivereigh in their account of the origins of the Enneagram, which they trace back to the Occultist George Gurdjieff and Sufism, an esoteric form of Islam. They make no reference to its origins with the Desert Fathers:

Enneagram: (from the Greek ennéa = nine + gramma = sign) the name refers to a diagram composed of a circle with nine points on its circumference, connected within the circle by a triangle and a hexangle. It was originally used for divination, but has become known as the symbol for a system of personality typology consisting of nine standard character types. It became popular after the publication of Helen Palmer’s book The Enneagram,(97) but she recognises her indebtedness to the Russian esoteric thinker and practitioner G.I. Gurdjieff, the Chilean psychologist Claudio Naranjo and author Oscar Ichazo, founder of Arica. The origin of the enneagram remains shrouded in mystery, but some maintain that it comes from Sufi mysticism.

EWTN’s Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ is an expert on the origins of the Enneagram and its detrimental influence on Christian life and spirituality. Fr Pacwa SJ’s warnings about the Enneagram are based on his many years of practical experience of using it in spriritual direction. He published a book in 1992 that warned of the dangers of the Enneagram called, “Catholics and the New Age: How Good People are Being Drawn into Jungian Psychology, the Enneagram, and the Age of Aquarius”. His 2015 article provides a summary of the reasons why he considers the Enneagram “a dangerous fraud’:

“First, the claim of the enneagram’s antiquity is false, but it has been a device for not subjecting it to serious scientific scrutiny. It has been tested neither by time nor by psychologists. How do we know that it is true except for the claims of its inventors and teachers?

Second, because the enneagram is untested, there are no criteria to determine who is an authentic teacher or who is a hack. What are the credentials of the enneagram teachers offering workshops and retreats? Who approved of their abilities, except for themselves? How many courses did they take? From whom? I took one of the first courses ever offered, back in 1972. Quite a few “experts” were in the same course and learned no more about it than I did. Their continued research has often been conducted with unacceptable scientific methods. Neither the state nor we would accept such credentials from a psychologist; why do we accept it from someone who claims to teach about spirituality?

Third, many of the ideas and teachings of Gurdjieff and Ichazo are still taught by the Catholic enneagram “experts.” I heard from priests that original sin began at age three or four when kids choose a personality to cover their “essence.” I have heard them teach that we must do the work to return to this “essence.” Remember, this essence refers to the divine nature of the universe and person. Such a pantheistic notion contradicts Christianity. If the Catholic enneagram experts do not intend to teach pantheism, then what do they mean by essence?

Another false doctrine is that the nine types are nine demons, the nine faces of God turned upside down. In no way does Christianity teach that God has nine faces. Nor can humans turn God’s face upside down or right side up. Such mythology is nonsense. Christ taught that He came to die for sinners and reconcile them to God. He taught the forgiveness of sin and the need to repent and live the Gospel He taught. The grace of Christ is what makes possible the moral and spiritual transformation of our lives. In addition to finding out if the enneagram is psychologically true, its proponents must also teach solid, Biblically based doctrines about sin, redemption, grace and free will.

Faith is not knowledge, as Gurdjieff taught, but a gift from God by which we accept what God has taught and by which we commit ourselves to God. Anyone who attends enneagram workshops needs to learn whether the enneagram is true before using it. That work has not yet been done by the experts. Secondly, and much more importantly, there should be certainty about true Catholic teaching. No matter how true a psychology or personality system may be, if the truth about Jesus Christ, His Church, and His redemption of the world is not taught or is contradicted, the possibility of spiritual danger remains very serious. Each Christian has the duty to find out whether the teachings they are receiving are true.”

In 2012 Anna Abbott wrote an assessment of the Enneagram for The Catholic World Report, “A Dangerous Practice” that drew on internal reports of the US Bishops’ Conference into the Enneagram. One of the most concerning conclusions about the errors of the Enneagram is the following about its approach to sin:

“The Enneagram redefines sin, among other fundamental concepts, by simply associating faults with personality types, which is particularly tempting in a cultural climate of irresponsibility and narcissism. It encourages an unhealthy self-absorption about one’s own “type,” so that the type is at fault rather than the person. This gives rise to a deterministic mindset at odds with Christian freedom.”


In the light of these authoritative and significant criticisms of the Enneagram Austen Ivereigh’s claim about Pope Francis’s attitude to the Enneagram is a matter of concern. Is Pope Francis really “not against” the Enneagram? Ivereigh’s claim carries weight as he is the author of a major biography of the Holy Father, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. In the light of Ivereigh’s claims, it would be helpful to know how Pope Francis responds to serious criticisms of the Enneagram.

Originally published at EWTN GB. Reprinted with permission.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email