Blog Post

Pope Francis and the Enneagram

44904692 - enneagram - personality types diagram - testing mapNews broke yesterday that Pope Francis told a reporter that he is “not against” a dubious personality typing system known as the Enneagram, but that he is only against ways in which it is abused. Could this possibly be true?

Yes, it could be true but, as we all know, Pope Francis’ way of speaking frequently leads to misunderstandings. In this case it is especially problematic for three reasons: 1) the journalist does not give us a direct quote; 2) the journalist is a proponent of the Enneagram; 3) the journalist checked with the notorious Fr. Richard Rohr (not known for his faithfulness to the Magisterium) who determined that Francis was an “eight” on the Enneagram scale. These facts alone raise many red flags for me.

Thanks to an article by Deacon Nick Donnelly and appearing on  EWTN Great Britain, we know that the journalist, Austen Ivereigh of the Catholic news website Crux, wrote an article celebrating the Pope’s 80th birthday. Ivereigh frames the whole article on how Francis should pause at this juncture in his life to review his “core life task”, which is Enneagram-speak for “purpose in life.” The pope is quickly identified as an “eight” according to the Enneagram’s typing system and the author goes on to devote most of the article to proving just how much of an “eight” Francis really is. (FYI, other “eights” include Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King and King David.)

The article also provides unsubstantiated information about the Enneagram’s origins such as how it dates back to the Desert Fathers.

"On the Enneagram, that personality-type identifier first created by the desert fathers which received its modern form from the Jesuits . . .” Ivereigh writes.

Unfortunately for the reader, they are never told that there is not a shred of evidence to support this claim. Nor does he mention the fact that other very reliable sources, such as the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, authors of Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, and Father Mitch Pacwa, a noted authority on the Enneagram, believe the practice may have originated in Sufism, and Gnosticism.

As the Councils wrote: “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.(Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life, No.1.4)”

This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Enneagram. You'd think Ivereigh would at least mention it. A balanced article, especially one written by a journalist of Ivereigh’s standing, should have at least presented such salient facts to the readers.

And then we get to his statement about Francis’ supposed approval of the Enneagram - which is nothing more than a mere parentheses!

“(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.)”

This gives us no clue about the context in which the pope made this statement or how the question might have been posed to him – also very important points that should have been provided to readers.

From there, Ivereigh goes on to reveal what appears to be his unquestioning belief in the Enneagram by devoting several paragraphs to extolling the qualities of “eights” and how events in Francis’ life prove that he’s an “eight” and how everything the pope does gives credit to the fact that the Enneagram pegged him correctly.

Frankly, I was more disappointed by Ivereigh’s lack of objectivity about the Enneagram, which has been the source of enough controversy over the years to have merited at least a mention of this debate, than I was about Francis’ statement. Perhaps this is because I’m too used to Francis’ comments being taken out of context and being corrected a few days later by the Vatican Press Office.

However, I agree with Deacon Donnelly that in the light of Ivereigh’s claims, “it would be helpful to know how Pope Francis responds to serious criticisms of the Enneagram.”

It’s a shame Ivereigh let his eagerness to promote the Enneagram overwhelm his otherwise excellent journalistic instincts. If the Pope did indeed make such a statement about something as controversial as the Enneagram, a reporter of his caliber should have asked at least a few follow-up questions and given us a direct quote.

Otherwise, this “parentheses” may be igniting what could turn out to be just another meaningless brush-fire.

(By the way, the Enneagram isn't the only dubious personality typing mechanism in use today. Click here to read about all the other tests you ought to avoid as well.)