Two years ago this week, I wrote a glowing review of a Bible Software program called Verbum.
Among other things, I said…
I use Verbum every day. I repeat: every day. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away the best Bible software I’ve ever come across.
Twenty-four months later, and I’m still using this software every day.
Not only do I consider Verbum an essential tool for my work as a Catholic writer, speaker, and catechist, but as a student of the contemplative/mystical tradition within Christianity, it’s equally indispensable.
In 2014, I reviewed the previous version of Verbum, a Bible study software created by Faithlife Corporation — the same people who produce Logos, a similar product intended for Protestants and Evangelicals. Version 7, the current version, was released this past August, bringing new resources, more powerful Bible search tools, and with some truly nifty new features like a vastly improved Lectionary tool (more on that below). Because both Verbum and Logos come from the same company, Bible translations and other resources from the Logos library will run on Verbum (and vice versa)
But what truly makes Verbum so special is the depth of its specifically Catholic resources: Catholic translations of the Bible, the Catechism, a plethora of papal and Vatican documents, and an impressive library of theological and spiritual writings covering the entire two-thousand year history of the Church — think St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, all the way down to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Raymond Brown, and Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.
All the resources in the Verbum libraries are keyed to their relevant Biblical texts, and the texts in turn are keyed to the lectionary.
See where this is going?
If you are deacon preparing a sermon, or a catechist preparing a presentation for adult catechumens, or simply someone who wants to read scripture though the eyes of the entire Catholic tradition — Verbum is your gateway.
You can initiate your search based on lectionary readings for any day. For example, my wife and I are leading the scripture reflection for the catechumens at my church this Sunday, so we’ll sit down and explore what Leo the Great has to say about Isaiah 35:1-10, or what St. Basil wrote about James 5:7-20, or what St. Augustine preached on Matthew 11 — without spending hours of research to find these citations.
Topical indexes, keyed to every Bible passage, helps you to find numerous references in your library to all the major themes found within any particular passage. Each passage is also keyed to the Catechism, enabling you to relate its message to the faith as a whole. You can search by topic as well — so if you want to explore, say, contemplation, a quick search reveals not only definitions of the term (from sources like A Catholic Dictionary or the Catechism), but also related scripture passages, papal and Vatican II documents, and writers from the tradition (“contemplation” yielded hits in my library from Saints Augustine, John Cassian, Benedict, Bernard, and others).
In other words, whether you are writing a homily, preparing a lesson plan, or simply exploring the wisdom of the tradition for your own edification, thanks to Verbum your work is both far much efficient and much, much easier. Two thousand years of wisdom at your fingertips.
Two years ago I wrote about how Verbum makes scripture study based on the original languages come alive, even us for us lay folks whose knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is limited. Here’s another screen shot to give you a taste: this is a “Bible word search” for silence.
Notice that there are eight Hebrew and seven Greek words that can be translated as “silence” in English. If you click on any one of those words, it takes you to the scripture passages where that particular word appears. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize that a tool like this can make your reading of the text much more nuanced and informed.
Verbum is Your Contemplative Library
While I enthusiastically endorse Verbum for priests, deacons, seminarians, catechists, or anyone else involved in teaching or studying the Catholic faith in general, what I love the most about this program is its resources that will be particularly helpful to students of monastic, contemplative, or even mystical spirituality.
When I first discovered Verbum two years ago, I was impressed with the number of classic titles from the contemplative tradition that you can add to your personal Verbum library. Books by St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Francis de Sales, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Benedict, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Isaac of Ninevah, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and numerous other spiritual masters are available (and many titles are bundled in some of the collections you can buy for your library).
You can use Verbum as an ebook reader, similar to the Nook or Kindle apps you can put on your iPad or other tablet. But of course, Verbum is far more than simply an e-reader — each of these titles is keyed to your Biblical software, making them resources available to shed light on whatever scripture passage you may be studying.
Many of the “classics” available on Verbum are titles in the public domain, meaning they are older translations. But this year, Faithlife partnered with Paulist Press to release nearly all of the popular Classics of Western Spirituality titles — meaning that contemporary, highly respected editions of the writings of great mystics such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Walter Hilton, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and many many more, are now available for your Verbum library!
For many of these mystical classics, Verbum is the only platform on which they are available as e-books.
There are over 120 books in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series, including not only Catholic classics, but also titles by Protestant and Eastern Orthodox spiritual writers, along with some notable titles from Jewish, Muslim, and even Native American spiritual writers.
In addition to all these great classics, more recent authors, such as Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, and Evelyn Underhill, are also well represented in the Verbum catalog.
Imagine carrying hundreds of mystical and contemplative classics with you in your smartphone or tablet? That’s what Verbum allows you to do.
And while your portable devices allow you to read these great books wherever you may be, the desktop version of Verbum seamlessly integrates your spiritual titles with the rest of your Verbum library, meaning that you can search what the mystics have to say about any given topic or Bible passage, just as you might want to learn what the great theologians have to say.
It’s an amazing program. Have I mentioned yet how enthusiastic I am about this?
The Rule of Saint Benedict (and more)
As if all this weren’t enough, Verbum also offers a number of titles related to the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict — the rule in its original Latin, several English translations, and a number of commentaries, by renowned scholars and practitioners like Terence Kardong, Timothy Fry, and Esther de Waal. You can create a custom layout on your desktop version of Verbum to view multiple translations and commentaries simultaneously — all linked together, so that whatever chapter of the Rule you’re studying, you will immediately have access to that chapter in several versions, along with several commentaries.
And of course, every single Biblical reference in the Rule is keyed back to its relevant scripture source, which gives you access to what the rest of the tradition has to say about that particular passage! The Rule of St. Benedict is one of those essential titles that you could easily devote an entire lifetime to studying; but thanks to Verbum, the ability to engage in an in-depth study of the Rule is easier than ever.
Okay, I could go on and on, but in the interest of keeping this review from getting too much longer, I’ll only say one more thing. Recently I was speaking with a deacon who has years’ worth of sermons on his hard drive, and now wants to find a way to catalogue them, so he could easily access one if he needs to look up a reference or even (perish the thought) wants to use one again (I promise I won’t tell). As he described this, I told him about Verbum, which among its many other features, also allows you to enter your own texts into your library.
The beautiful thing about it: the deacon could upload all of these sermons into his Verbum library, and tag each one with the relevant texts — or date on the Liturgical calendar — meaning that every time he has to write a sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, year A, the sermon(s) he wrote for that date in previous years will be immediately at his fingertips — along with, of course, all the rest of his Verbum resources.
Thankfully, Verbum has some excellent resources including a community blog and a collection of training videos, to make learning the program easy. So when you purchase your own copy of Verbum, spend the extra money and get the training module as well (it’s called “360 Training”).
If you haven’t already done so, read my original Verbum review from two years ago. I discuss several features in that review that I won’t repeat here in the interest in brevity — features such as the Exegetical and Passage Guides, that (among other things) can help you understand the original Bible languages, and the readings plans which allow you to turn any text in your library into a daily devotional.
Granted, Verbum is an investment. Your initial cost, depending on how extensive a library you want to begin with, will run anywhere from about $265 to almost $4500. But it’s a tremendous value, because the titles in your library, if purchased separately, could easily run you ten times (or more) of your actual cost. If you are like me, you will quickly have dozens of titles in the “Save for Later” section of your shopping cart. But that’s the beauty of this program: you can start out small, and add to your collection the titles that you need or are ready to study.
The Classics of Western Spirituality titles are currently only available in several bundles. You can get just the medieval titles, or just the post-Reformation Catholic titles, or just the Eastern Orthodox titles, or just the Muslim/Jewish titles, to give several examples. But if you can afford it, the best option is to buy the entire Classics of Western Spirituality collection — 126 titles in all. That would run you well over three thousand dollars if you bought them as print books, but Verbum offers the near-complete set (one title was not included because of copyright issues) for only $2299 — a savings of a thousand dollars over the print copies.
And here is a special deal just for readers of my blog: when you purchase your first Verbum library, you can use a special coupon to save you 10%. To get your code, visit Verbum through this link: www.verbum.com/partners/carl.
I know many people do not have that kind of money sitting around just waiting to be invested in software. But if you are in a position to afford this software (or work for a church or seminary or some other organization that can cover the cost), especially if you are involved in any serious effort to study or teach the Catholic faith and/or the contemplative tradition, then I heartily encourage you to acquire Verbum. If you’re anything like me, it will be money well spent.
Okay, the necessary disclaimer: I’m lucky enough to have had Faithlife supply me with review copies of a Verbum library, along with several other titles in their catalog, in exchange for writing an honest review, which I have done. The enthusiasm is all mine. I suppose I should also disclose the fact that I’ve spent my own money on more than one occasion to enhance my Verbum library!
So here’s a link to the Verbum Landing Page. You can click on the following links to read about the Classics of Western Spirituality Bundle, a Thomas Merton Collection, the Thomas Keating Collection, a wonderful C. S. Lewis Collection, and the Benedictine Studies Collection.
And finally, one more screen shot. Again from the iPad app, this is a screenshot of Julian of Norwich’s Showings from the Classics of Western Spirituality. As you can see, like any ebook, it is fully searchable, and easily highlight-able. But what I love is the capacity to click on any Bible reference and have the relevant text appear in a popup window. And on the desktop version, it’s a snap to go from the Bible verse to commentaries, exegetical analysis, or numerous other tools to make the scripture come alive.
2020 Update: Two of my books are now available on Verbum — which not only do I think is incredibly cool, but I hope you will consider purchasing them as well! Click here to find Unteachable Lessons and Befriending Silence on Verbum.