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The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

by Richard Rohr, Andreas Ebert


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Richard Rohr and Andrea Ebert's runaway best-seller shows both the basic logic of the Enneagram and its harmony with the core truths of Christian thought from the time of the early Church forward.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780824519506
Publisher: The Crossroad Publishing Company
Publication date: 09/01/2001
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 59,752
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Richard Rohr was born in Kansas in 1943. He entered the Franciscans in 1961, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He received his Master's Degree in Theology from Dayton that same year. He now lives in a hermitage behind his Franciscan community in Albuquerque, and divides his time between local work and preaching and teaching on all continents. He has written numerous books including: Everything Belongs, Things Hidden, The Naked Now, and more.

Andreas Ebert is the author of numerous books on the Enneagram as well as the pastor of St. Luke's in Munich and the director of a spiritual center. He studied Protestant theology at Neuendettelsau, Tubingen, Wurzburg, and Heidelberg. Born in Berlin, Germany, he currently resides in Munchen, Germany.

Rick Adamson is an American Library Association award-winning audiobook narrator with over twenty years of experience in voiceover, spoken word, acting, corporate-sales training, and narration. A Grammy nominee, he has narrated the works of authors such as Bill Gates, Al Franken, O. Henry, and Susan Wilson. As a stage actor, he has performed both in New York and regionally in productions such as Annie and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Read an Excerpt


Part I



The Enneagram is a very old typology that describes nine different characters. It shares with many other typologies the crude reduction of human behavior to a limited number of character types.

Astrology connects its twelve types of human being to the particular constellation "under which" one is born. The Greek physician Hippocrates (d. 377 B.C.E.) traced his four temperaments (sanguinary, melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic) back to various "bodily fluids" (blood, black bile, bile, mucus). In the twentieth century Ernst Kretschmer (1888–1964) investigated the links between body build and the inclination to certain psychological troubles. He distinguished (1) pyknic (stocky), (2) leptosomatic (thin), and (3) athletic body types, and coordinated them with (1) cyclothymic (inclination to manic depressive illness), (2) schizothymic (inclination to schizophrenia), and (3) viscous (inclination to epilepsy) character features.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) starts from the assumption that there are three pairs of functions that are expressed differently in each person: extroverted-introverted; sensate-intuitive; thinking-feeling. In each case everyone prefers one of the two possibilities; this results in eight possible combinations or types, e.g., the extroverted-intuitive thinker or the introverted-sensate feeler.

The American Isabel Briggs Myers discovered a further pair of functions (judging-perceiving: the inclination to quick, clear judgments and decisions as opposed to receptivity to many influences and kinds of information). Following Jung she developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a test that distinguishes among the sixteen types and is widely used in the United States, both in industry and the churches.

Karen Horney (1885–1952) originally named three different ways that people try to overcome their fear of life: submission (turning to other persons); hostility (aggression against others); withdrawal (isolation from others). Later she developed a model pointing up four main ways by which people try to protect themselves from their fundamental anxiety: love, submissiveness, power, and distancing.

This last model matches to some extent the scheme worked out by the psychoanalyst Fritz Riemann (1902–79), who was influenced by astrology. He assumes four basic human fears: (1) fear of nearness, (2) fear of distance, (3) fear of change, (4) fear of permanence. This results in the four basic types: schizoid, depressive, compulsive, and hysterical.

All these models try — under different presuppositions — to account for the experience that people are different, but that some individuals are surprisingly similar to one another. Each one of these typologies can be compared to a map that has the purpose of facilitating the overview of the realm of the human soul. Just as there are topographical, political, and street maps, so each of the typologies mentioned pursues a particular interest, and hence has its special strengths and weaknesses. None of them is all-inclusive. None of them is the thing itself. In the most popular of all typologies — the astrological — we have seriously to ask whether its presupposition, that there is a correspondence between the courses of the stars and the patterns of human destiny, is at all tenable. In any case, the study of a map never replaces the "experience" of the country itself.

All typologies have the disadvantage of necessarily neglecting the uniqueness, originality, and peculiar nature of the individual. There is no overlooking the danger of forcing oneself and others, for example, into the pigeonhole of a specific "sign" and in that way freezing the individual in place once and for all. The discovery of regular patterns in human behavior has meaning only when at the same time the possibility of change and liberation from the pressure of determinacy comes into view. This possibility, I believe, is opened up by the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a very old map. Like other typologies, it describes different character types. But that is only the beginning. Beyond the description of conditions, the Enneagram contains an inner dynamic that aims at change. It demands a lot and is exhausting, at least when it is taught and carried out as originally intended. The Enneagram is more than an entertaining game for learning about oneself. It is concerned with change and making a turnaround, with what the religious traditions call conversion or repentance. It confronts us with compulsions and laws under which we live — usually without being aware of it — and it aims to invite us to go beyond them, to take steps into the domain of freedom.

The starting point of the Enneagram is the blind alleys into which we stumble in our attempt to protect our life from internal and external threats. The person, as created by God, is according to the Bible very good (Gen. 2:31). This human essence (one's "true self") is exposed to the assault of threatening forces even during pregnancy and at the latest from the moment of birth. The Christian doctrine of original sin points to this psychological fact by emphasizing that there actually is no undamaged, free, and "very good" person at any point of an individual's existence. We are from the outset exposed to destructive powers and hence in need of redemption. Even the genetic material of which we are composed already contains programming that helps to shape our way of being from the moment of conception.

The external world meets the child first of all in the form of parents and siblings, and later though comrades, teachers, the values and norms of one's group and religion, and whatever the general situation of society may be. Many different factors come together, stamp our inner life, and solidify into what in this book we call "voices." These voices can usually be summarized in short and pregnant sentences. They accompany us — often unconsciously — all through our lives and have a definitive effect on our behavior and character. Sometimes these voices have been verbally communicated to us ("Always be nice and say thank you!"). Sometimes they have taken shape as a reaction to the nonverbal overall behavior of the environment ("Don't come too close to me!").

The growing person reacts to these voices by internalizing certain ideals ("I am good, if I ..."), by developing avoidance strategies to escape punishment or other unpleasant consequences of "misbehavior," and by building up specific defense mechanisms. Guilt feelings always appear when one's own ideal is not arrived at or fulfilled. By contrast, real misconduct, which is manifested in the Enneagram in the nine "root sins," remains mostly hidden. Our "sins," in fact, are the other side of our gift. They are the way we get our energy. They "work" for us. The Enneagram uncovers this false energy and enables us to look our real dilemma in the eye.

We start from the assumption that we are stamped at once by our inherited structures and by influences from our environment. More important than exploration of the causes (the question of "whence?") is the question of the goal of our life ("whither?"). When Jesus and his disciples met the man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him" (John 9:1–3). The Enneagram can help us develop an awareness for our future and destiny, for that true face that we do not yet "have," but that already slumbers deep down inside us.

The Enneagram, from the Greek words ennea (=nine) and gramma (=sign or figure), is represented as a circle. On the circumference of the circle, there are nine points, each one forty degrees distant from the other, numbered clockwise from ONE to NINE, with NINE at twelve o'clock. Points THREE, SIX, and NINE are connected by a triangle; points TWO, FOUR, ONE, SEVEN, FIVE, EIGHT (and TWO) by an irregular six-pointed star. Each one of the Enneagram numbers refers to a certain state of energy; the transitions between the conditions are fluid. The connecting lines point to the dynamics between specific points of energy. But before we turn to detailed observations of these energies and their dynamics, we need some preliminary information, particularly on the history of how this symbol system originated.


Until recently the origins of the Enneagram seemed to be hidden behind a veil. On the one hand, that made the subject especially mysterious; on the other, it nourished speculation and skepticism, and hardly contributed to the credibility of the system or even to a serious academic or scholarly evaluation of it. There were no known written sources from which one might have shown that it really was an "ancient wisdom teaching," as most of the Enneagram's adherents claimed. We too had to frankly acknowledge this deficit when our book appeared in 1989. At the outset the only thing known was that the Enneagram was first presented in the West by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in 1916 — and then as a comprehensive symbol of the harmonic structure and inner dynamism of the cosmos, not as a typology of character. Gurdjieff never gave explicit information about his sources. J. G. Bennett, one of Gurdjieff's most prominent disciples, maintained that Gurdjieff had learned the Enneagram from Sufis in Asia. Oscar Ichazo, who in the early 1970s developed the "Enneagram of fixations," used Gurdjieff's model and in several statements — some of them highly cryptic — likewise referred to hidden Sufi sources, but also to his own visions of angels and similar things. That didn't make the case any more conclusive or serious; and Ichazo too veiled his sources.

The common legend about how the Enneagram arose runs something like this: its origins go back many millennia to the Near East, the cradle of many of humanity's great religions. This knowledge, which supposedly influenced all the major religions, was enriched by many of them and passed down through the ages. In this context Bennett makes special mention of the "Magi," those Eastern wise men from the first millennium B.C.E., who were at once priests, philosophers, astronomers, astrologists, psychologists, theologians, and magicians. (According to the Gospel of Matthew such Magi came to Jerusalem after the birth of Jesus to adore the newborn Savior.)

Pythagoras too was initiated into the school of the Magi. The mathematician and spiritual master from Samos (ca. 569–496 B.C.E.) became a priest in his youth and spent long years in the religious centers of his time, especially in Egypt and Babylonia. Toward the end of his long life he founded a school of wisdom in southern Italy that was divided into "exoteric" and "esoteric" sections. The exoteric school taught life-wisdom for everyone; in the esoteric department the adepts were initiated into the secret connections of the cosmos, a subject on which they had to observe the strictest silence. In Pythagoras's world picture, as in the later Jewish Cabbala, a crucial role was played by the numbers one to nine, with the number ten characterizing the cosmos as a whole. For Pythagoras these numbers had both a quantitative meaning as well as a qualitative, symbolic sense.

At this point there is a huge thousand-year gap in the legend. These, of course, were the centuries that saw the rise and fall of the Roman empire and the emergence of Christianity, first persecuted, but then established as the state religion.

After the coming of Islam (about a thousand years after Pythagoras), the earlier legend goes on to say, the old secret knowledge was preserved, developed, and passed on, in particular by a Sufi school. The Sufi masters, it was said, had never handed down the Enneagram as a whole, but revealed to individuals seeking counsel only those parts of it that were useful for a person's spiritual growth. At any rate, in the whole body of Sufi literature there is not the faintest allusion to the Enneagram. This is explained, as a rule, by the fact that it was a secret knowledge, that was to be passed on exclusively by word of mouth.

In 1995 I, Andreas Ebert, stumbled on a text by the old Christian Desert Father Evagrius Ponticus that nonplussed me. Even though I didn't understand all of it, I immediately had the sense that this text must have something to do with the Enneagram. Might this be the first and only written source pointing to the emergence of the Enneagram symbol? In January 1996 I published my discovery ("Are the Origins of the Enneagram Christian After All?") in no. 11 of the Enneagram Monthly, an international journal. In April and May of 1996 the same journal carried a long essay by Lynn Quirolo ("Pythagoras, Gurdjieff and the Enneagram"), who had made the same discovery, independently of me, at the same time. Lynn Quirolo is a graduate of J. G. Bennett's International Academy for Continuous Education in Sherborne (England). I am grateful to her article for some additional information, especially the decoding of the Pythagorean number symbolism (see below). The text that we had come across apparently contains essentially clearer hints about the origins of the Enneagram than all the earlier legends and speculations.

So were the origins of the Enneagram Christian — and not Sufi — after all? The Jesuit Robert Ochs, one of the first Enneagram disciples of Claudio Naranjo, "was convinced that the Enneagram was profoundly rooted in Christian mysticism. ... Ochs recognized the tradition of the Desert Fathers, a group of fourth-century monks who had developed the view of the seven deadly passions that charge the types with their energy." In 1992 the German Benedictine Anselm Grün had also noted some astonishing parallels between the Enneagram and the teaching of the passions developed by Evagrius.

The Desert Fathers, or "anchorites," were a fourth-century movement. When, after long periods of persecution, the Christian church gradually became tolerated and finally even privileged and elevated to the state religion, the earnestness of the following of Christ slackened off everywhere. Opportunists pressed to be baptized. Soon the pagan temples were closed, and some "unconvertible" people were just as cruelly persecuted as the Christians had earlier been by the pagans. The new official church was extremely anxious about both pagan infiltration of its teaching and "heretical" (especially gnostic) tendencies. With the support of the state it pushed through its version of "orthodoxy." Instead of a simple faith in Christ and a sincere readiness to suffer, the struggle for a dogmatic monopoly and social power and privileges came increasingly to the fore.

Countless individuals, both men and women, who wanted to be "serious" Christians, saw themselves compelled to retreat. They withdrew from the urban centers into the wilderness in order to live in small communities or hermitages. They renounced marriage, worldly goods, and secular activities, so as to find peace of heart (hesychia). The biography of the first great Desert Father, Anthony, which by the way was modeled on the story of Pythagoras, has continually inspired painters and other artists.

Life in the wilderness promoted an examination of the passions that overpowered the hermit, particularly in the form of fantasies and thoughts that had to be overcome — or "integrated," as one might say in the language of present-day psychology.

Evagrius Ponticus was born in the year 345 in Ibora, in the province of Pontus (modern Georgia), the son of a bishop. At the age of thirty-four he was consecrated a deacon. In 381 he went to Constantinople, but he had to leave the city because of a love affair. After a stopover in Jerusalem he betook himself to Egypt to live there as a monk. Up until his death in 399 he remained in a hermitage in the Nitrian desert, where he composed his most important works. A particular intellectual influence on Evagrius came from the works of Origen, who was in turn influenced by Pythagorean thought and who championed the allegorical interpretation of the Bible (meaning that one read between the lines of biblical texts that were accessible to everyone, seeking for a mysterious, symbolical sense. Numerological speculation played a key role in this.) The Origenists were resisted and ultimately persecuted by the "anthropomorphists," who allowed only literal exposition of the Bible.

In the year 399, shortly after Evagrius died, his partisans had to flee. They crossed the borders of the Roman Empire into Armenia and the Arab world, where they later influenced the Sufis. In Armenia Evagrius is widely venerated to this day; some of his writings have been preserved only in Armenian. The teachings of Evagrius and the Desert Fathers exerted, and continue to exert, an enormous influence, above all on Eastern Orthodox monks, for example on Mt. Athos — despite the persecutions and condemnations launched at them. At the Council of Jerusalem (553) Evagrius was condemned along with Origen. Three later councils repeated these condemnations.


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Table of Contents

Preface: A Mirror of the Soul, Andreas Ebert,
Preface: Discernment: How to See, How to Hear Richard Rohr,
A Dynamic Typology,
The Mystery of the Number 153,
Ramón Lull, 1236–1315,
Breakthrough to the Totally Other,
A Cardinal Wakes Up,
A Sobering Aha-Experience,
Gifted Sinners,
The Truth Is Simple and Beautiful,
People Are Creatures of Habit,
The Way to Self-Worth,
Wrong Ways and Ways Out,
The Three Centers: Gut, Heart, Head,
The Nine Faces of the Soul,
Preface to Part II: Original Sin, Richard Rohr,
Type ONE: The Need to Be Perfect,
Type TWO: The Need to Be Needed,
Type THREE: The Need to Succeed,
Type FOUR: The Need to Be Special,
Type FIVE: The Need to Perceive,
Type SIX: The Need for Security,
Type SEVEN: The Need to Avoid Pain,
Type EIGHT: The Need to Be Against,
Type NINE: The Need to Avoid,
Repentance and Reorientation,
Idealized Self-Image and Guilt Feelings,
Temptation, Avoidance, Resistance,
The Triple Continuum,
Growing with the Enneagram,
Jesus and the Enneagram,
The Enneagram and Prayer,
The End of Determinism,
An Enneagram Sermon on Christmas, Dietrich Koller,
The Repentance No One Regrets: Perspectives on Spiritual Work, Dietrich Koller,
Summary Tables,

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