LXXVII – Word Study: Formation

Formation is a word I’ve used to describe moral and religious education, and I thought it would be appropriate to do a deep dive into what exactly that means. The etymology itself is quite simple (a cognate of the greek morphe, meaning shape or appearance), but it’s derivations can give us some insight into it’s use.

God formed Man from clay. Formed: To create. Formation is something new, but we provide the raw materials. Religious education takes the raw materials of young minds and forms them into knowledgeable Catholics. Formation thus has the connotation of working with something unformed, some raw material, and ordering it to some end. God took clay and breathed life into it, and made Man. So Formation could also be construed as bringing it to God. Young minds are offered to God via catechesis, and are formed into Christians as a result. The Sacrament of Confirmation, like the Sacrament of Baptism, creates an essential change in a person. They are made into Christians, from the mundane stuff of Humanity.

Transformation is when you take something already formed and change it’s form. The prefix trans+ in this case, means “to change” or “move between”. Marriage or Holy Orders, for example, transform the Christian Man into a Husband or Priest.

In all of these cases, it is God who is doing the heavy lifting. You supply the raw materials. You lift them up, piece by piece, in prayer. At your conception, you were formed from inert stuff into life. Then, your parents and godparents lifted you up at your baptism, and God transformed you from a Human into a Christian. How else can God transform you, if you give him the space to work?


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5 thoughts on “LXXVII – Word Study: Formation”

  1. It’s a tricky word, to be sure. I think we should recognize two very different meanings. There is the ordinary meaning to reshape, as when I form bread dough into a ball, and the Platonic meaning to impart an essence. I can form and reform a wad of play dough without any change to its essence. I can form a block of wood into a sculpture, and yet it remains wood. If I burn the wood, however, I effect a more fundamental transformation, and the wood with all its characteristic properties is no more.

    Faith formation should obviously be of the second sort. It should not be just a haircut. As one of our hymns puts it, we acquire a “new heart.” And heart here means soul. The new heart we acquire is not just one replacement part in our system, but a new control that transforms every part in the system. If we liken ourself to that block of wood, we are not being carved. We are being burned.


  2. Wow. My mind is filled with thoughts and images. This is the stuff short stories are made of. I read this in the morning and have been rolling it around my mind all day. Hopefully it produces a pearl.


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