Constantine the Great [AD 306 – 337]

Christianity the official religion of Rome – Starting the development of a State Church

Christianity transitioned to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (AD 306–337).

Some scholars believed that his main objective was to gain widespread submission to his authority, and he, therefore, chose Christianity to reach this goal. Regardless of these beliefs, under the Constantinian rule, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, launching the era of State church of the Roman Empire

A turning point for early Christianity was Constantine’s decision to cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and in 313, Constantine decriminalized Christian worship.

The Early Christian Church – Desert Fathers and Mothers emerging

When members of the church began finding ways to work with the Roman state, the Desert Fathers saw that as a compromise between “the things of God and the things of Caesar.” The men and women who moved out to the desert and lived in monastic communities built their lifestyle around asceticism, solitude, and silence, an alternative to empire and its economy.  Out of the tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers have come many contemplative practices. The desert communities grew out of informal gatherings of monastic monks and many of them also became hermits to navigate the deep mystery of their inner experience. This movement ran in parallel to the monastic pattern in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Faith emphasized lifestyle practice.  The desert monks told stories instead of using formal theology as many of them were uneducated.  Through storytelling, they taught about essential issues of ego, love, virtue, surrender, peace, divine union, and inner freedom.

Thomas Merton describes these men and women who fled to the desert as people “who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state.” They sought a pathway to God that was freely chosen, not inherited from others who had outlined the way beforehand.

The Enneagram: A Short History

The Enneagram is old. It has roots in several wisdom traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Seven of the nine Enneagram types are associated with the “deadly” sins which originated with the Desert Fathers and Mothers. In the late 1960s, Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram as we know it today. A group of Jesuits (Society of Jesus founded by St Ignatius of Loyola) learned the system from Ichazo’s school in South America and brought it back with them to the United States. 

The Enneagram is a dynamic system primarily developed in a narrative tradition, between students and teachers. A “dynamic system” allows for the complexity and nuances of human nature, which do not fit easily into simple categories; it, therefore, supports the evolving, maturing human journey.

The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation and is most helpful when used in combination with other practices like study, contemplation, reflection, spiritual direction, and life in community with others.

The Enneagram is meant to help you over a life-long journey and is not simply to be used as a personality typing system.

The purpose of the Enneagram is to help us uncover our subconscious addictions that drive how we show up in life.  It also helps identify the unconscious traps that keep us from living fully and freely as our True Self.  We are then enabled to use our unique, authentic gifts for the greater good of others and the world.

  • The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey  

The Enneagram identifies core types and motives but includes in-depth explorations of the three centres of expression and intelligence, namely headspace, heart space and body space. The Enneagram shows the importance of compassion, grace, and the awakening of the soul to reach our full potential in God.

  • The Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits  

Each of the nine Enneagram types with their virtues, compulsions, and paths are instrumental towards spiritual growth and is often used as a tool within spiritual direction.

The Enneagram is taught as a way of understanding motive, personality, addiction, relationships, and vocation.

Contemplative Spirituality

The Christian contemplative tradition has rich spiritual knowledge and experience spanning over two thousand years.

Contemplative spirituality is a way of growing spiritually through solitude, stillness, silence, and reflective practices.  Usually associated with monasteries, but increasingly people are finding its wisdom compatible with everyday life.  Contemplative Spirituality develops our awareness and experience of God within the ordinary circumstances of life.  

Within Christianity, for centuries, many have been drawn to this way of life, and often it is their voices that bring words of love, compassion, care and wisdom when religion seems to have forgotten the love and compassion of Jesus.  These voices come from Jesus himself to St Anthony of the Desert, St Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Ávila, St John of the Cross, St Ignatius of Loyola and so the list goes on.

St Francis of Assisi

The Jesuits have their Ignatian Exercises and Examen, the Benedictines have their structured life of Ora et Labora, and the Franciscans observe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is in this observation that St Francis fell in love with nature.  He invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. 

Francis is the first known person within the Christian tradition to exhibit a nature mysticism. For Francis, his union with nature became a way of God’s communication of himself to humanity and humanity’s union with God.

Francis has been described as a nature mystic, one who finds God in the greatness and beauty of nature. Everything spoke to Francis of the infinite love of God. Creation became the place to find God and, in finding God, he realized God’s intimate relationship with all of creation.

St Ignatius of Loyola and Ignatian Spirituality 

Iñigo Lopez de Loyola (St Ignatius) the son of a noble and wealthy Spanish family, was born in his family’s ancestral castle in 1491. He was sent to the Spanish court to become a page and embraced court life with enthusiasm. Ignatius was captivated by military prowess, honour, chivalry, and the pursuit of material wealth.  He often appeared as a romantic ladies’ man, vain, hot-headed and absorbed in the courtly chivalry of the day, where he often dreamt of winning battles and gaining the love of a fair maiden.  He later wrote in his autobiography,  “I was a man given to the vanities of the world whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises, with a great and vain desire to win renown.”  

This worldview at the time soon lead to St Ignatius as the only saint with a criminal charge of “nocturnal misdemeanours” on police record, which landed him and his brother, Pedro, in prison. 

He was educated as a knight and like many young men from his background, Ignatius joined the army.  

While fighting as a military officer against the French in the Battle at Pamplona in 1521, a cannonball shattered Íñigo’s leg.  The French admired his courage and carried him back to recuperate at his home, the castle of Loyola. A long and painful convalescence laid ahead of him.

During his time of recovery, he was extremely bored and asked for books to read about romance and chivalry.  However, the only books available was a copy of the life of Jesus the Christ and a book on the saints.  Out of sheer boredom and with not much option, Ignatius began to read these two books.  

Whilst reading he often noticed his continuing daydreams.   Two particular subjects emerged:

  • He imagined a life of fame and glory, dreaming about winning the love of a noble lady of the court. 
  • But then he also started to imagine the lives of the saints. He considered their deeds and decided that this might be worth imitating.  In fact he saw himself outgrowing the saints and being better…in a way dreaming about him setting the new standards for sainthood.  

He started noticing a difference in inner experience, between the two daydreams. 

After reading and thinking of the saints and Christ, he felt a deep rooted calm and feelings of  content, whilst experiencing peace with a keen sense of inner satisfaction. The daydreams about fame and glory, winning the love of a noble lady, often left him feeling restless and sad.  Reflecting on this he realised that the second type of daydream, thinking about Jesus and the saints, was inspired by God, the good Spirit, and the latter inspired by the bad spirit.  This was the beginning of his conversion to follow Christ.  It was also the beginning of spiritual discernment, as Ignatius realised that not only intellect, but emotions, imaginations and feelings can help us hear and recognise God in action in our lives.

St Ignatius of Loyola developed the Spiritual Exercises from the experience of his own prayer life and of his experience of helping others to reflect on and grow in their relationship with God.

Ignatian Spirituality encourages us:

  • To develop a deeper and more active relationship with God 
  • To become aware of and to reflect on the purpose for which God created them
  • To be more effective co-workers with God in the world
  • To grow in discernment

Ignatius developed several practical methods and approaches to facilitate real encounters with God in our everyday life: 

  • Act of the presence of God
  • Lectio Divina 
  • Gospel Contemplation
  • Examen (The Awareness Prayer) 

Ignatian spirituality is grounded in the conviction that God is active, personal, and present to us. Our everyday lives is the place where we connect with God.