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April 15, 2002

by Paul Matthew St. Pierre

Signs without wonders

BIBLICAL CHARACTERS AND THE ENNEAGRAM: IMAGES OF TRANSFORMATION, by Diane Tolomeo, Pearl Gervais, and Remi J. De Roo. Newport Bay, paper.

In my long career as a reader, I can recall only three books that I was unable to complete after undertaking my readings: Malcolm Lowry’s October Ferry to Gabriola (1971), James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (1939), and Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927).

Lowry’s novel, which was published posthumously, I found disorganized; Joyce’s novel seemed abstruse, or I seemed ignorant of its allusions; and, reading Proust in French, I deemed the eight-part cycle interminable in its impressionism; but in each case I was able to finish my reading after taking the book up again.

Were I not required to read this book through to the end in my duty as The B.C. Catholic book reviewer, I am afraid I would have had to add Biblical Characters and the Enneagram: Images of Transformation to my list of unreadable books. I am quite sure, however, that, unlike the others, I would never have found the courage to pick this one up again and take it through to “30.”

I must admit that I may be in the minority in my critical position on this book, because its front pages feature 10 very positive blurbs by readers of advance copies and by reviewers, including Joan Chittister, OSB; Bernard Daly, a former publisher of The Catholic Register; John English, SJ; and Douglas Todd, the religion and ethics writer of The Vancouver Sun.

With respect, I can conclude only that they are deluded.

Parts of Biblical Characters and the Enneagram are quite incomprehensible, specifically the enneagram parts. The commentary of Diane Tolomeo, Pearl Gervais, and Remi J. De Roo (former Bishop of Victoria) on the figures and stories of Scripture would actually be very good, were it not bound to the interpretive theory of the enneagram.

What is an enneagram? The authors like to use the word a lot, but, rather than defining it in the early stages of the book, they prefer to maintain that enneagrammatic interpretive theory is not inconsistent with Scripture, Catholic tradition, the Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium, and the teachings of Pope John Paul II. For example, they credit much of their interpretive strategy to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

I’ll try my best to explain the enneagram. An enneagram is a graphic sign, or mandala, consisting of a circle inside which are a triangle (the three angles of which represent body, head, and heart) and a hexad.

The triangle and hexad form nine points of intersection around the circumference of the circular. Each numbered point may be used to represent certain personality and character traits in relation to the “centres” of body, mind, and heart.

In their book, Tolomeo, Gervais, and Bishop De Roo identify and interpret figures from both the Old and New Testaments according to these nine types.

The methodology is simplistic, reductive gobbledygook, albeit orthodox in content. (As Dame Edna Everage would say, “I mean this in a kind and caring way.”)

The authors read Scripture piously, but they base their interpretations on the flimsy premise that all people can be reduced to nine basic types. I mean, that’s fewer than the signs of the zodiac.

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