What Are You Wondering About Today?
Verbum / Logos
In the early middle ages, what we sometime pejoratively call “the dark ages,” monasteries in the Christian tradition were often beacons of scholarship and learning. Many monks devoted themselves to work in their monastic library and scriptorium, where they invested time in reading and learning the wisdom of the past, and in preserving that wisdom, by slowly and meticulously copying manuscripts, centuries before the invention of movable type made the printing press possible.
Indeed, the role that early medieval monks played in preserving the wisdom of western civilization was immortalized in Thomas Cahill’s bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization.
Is it any coincidence that monasteries — places marked by what Benedictine monk Jean LeClercq described as The Love of Learning and the Desire for God — were also places where mystical and contemplative spirituality thrived? It seems that mysticism requires the nutrients of training in knowledge and wisdom as assuredly as it requires a disciplined relationship with silence in order to most fully thrive (of course, thanks to the grace of God, exalted or ecstatic mystical consciousness can appear even in the most unfriendly environments, but generally speaking it seems that mysticism thrives best in stable environments of prayer and learning).
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. With the exception of remarkable projects like The Saint John’s Bible, few books are now produced by hand — and even the SJB was quickly printed using today’s technology. Instead, ours is the age of electronic books — where texts can be read, searched, highlighted, and studied using the power of computer technology. I still remember the mixture of joy and wonder I felt when I realized I could carry my Kindle on an airplane and have, literally, hundreds of books at my fingertips, all in a device that weighed only 11 ounces!
So this is the backdrop to why I am describing two software applications — Verbum and Logos — as an important community resource for the study and application of Christian mystical wisdom. Verbum and Logos are essential “sister” products, both Bible study software from a company called Faithlife. The only real difference is in their branding and marketing: Verbum is designed for Catholics, Logos for Protestants — but their functionality is the same, and with only a few exceptions, books and other resources are equally available on both platforms. Since I’m Catholic, I use Verbum, and so that’s what I’ll call the program from here on out — but everything I say about Verbum applies equally well to Logos.
Also, because I have reviewed Verbum on this blog on more than one occasion, Verbum has set up a program where readers of this blog can get a discount if they purchase the program by following this link: Special Offer for Followers of Carl McColman and Verbum (full disclosure: I get a commission on any Verbum/Logo sales generated by the links on my blog).
So why is this software so special, especially in regard to Christian mysticism? Verbum and Logos are professional-level Bible study programs. By “professional level” I mean suitable for scholars and academics, as well as clergy, priests, or other religious leaders. Faithlife products are more than just handy tools for reading the Bible on your computer. They are powerful programs for linking the Biblical text with commentaries, dictionaries, resources for understanding the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic), atlases, and other resources that can help anyone who is seriously studying the Bible, teaching it, preaching on it, or writing about it.
And under that rubric of “other resources” is where the mystics come in.
Many, perhaps even most, of the great mystics in the Christian tradition have relied on the Bible for inspiration, guidance, and wisdom. The Bible is truly the foundational text of western monotheism — a spiritual treasury of the Jewish people, and the Christian Church, and even respected by Islam. Christian mystics and contemplatives of every age have prayed the Bible, studied it, met God through it, used it as a springboard for meditative practices like lectio divina or Ignatian contemplation, and have relied on its wisdom and teachings to help them write about and teach the principles of mystical and contemplative spirituality.
In other words, many of the great writings of the mystics are steeped in Biblical language, allusions and references.
For this reason, the editorial team at Faithlife has gathered an impressive array of the writings of the mystics and released them as resources for Verbum and Logos. Many of these mystical writings are not available in ebook form in any other way — which means, no version for Kindle, or Nook, or any other e-reader. But you can get them on Verbum or Logos. And they are all keyed with Biblical links, so that whenever the mystical writer makes a Biblical allusion, that passage is just a mouse-click away.
What this means, for anyone serious about studying Christian mysticism, is that Verbum is an essential resource to link the study of the mystics with the broader work of studying the Bible and Christian wisdom/thought in general.
Mysticism, of any form, cannot be divorced from its religious and cultural matrix. If you want to understand Buddhist forms of mysticism, you need to be grounded in the dharma (Buddhist wisdom). The same goes for Christian mysticism: to fully unlock the wisdom of the mystics, you need to know the Bible and at least the basics of Christian theology. Verbum and Logos not only can help you learn the Bible and theology, but to do so in the context of reading the mystics themselves.
How Verbum (and Logos) Works
First, here’s a marketing Video to introduce you to the program. Remember, this is looking at it from a general perspective, not focussing on the depth of its contemplative and mystical resources.
Logos and Verbum are powerful Bible study applications. In addition, both programs can tap into a wealth of historical Christian writings, including writings of the mystics, various translations of the Bible, the Catholic Catechism, numerous 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, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, and Pope Francis.
All the resources are keyed to their relevant Biblical texts, and the texts in turn are keyed to both the Catholic and the common lectionaries.
You can initiate your search based on a Bible passage, or the lectionary readings for any given day, or you can simply go to whichever mystic or theologian you want to read.
For example, let’s say I’m leading a scripture reflection at my church this Sunday. I can sit down and explore what Bernard of Clairvaux has to say about Isaiah 35:1-10, or what St. John of the Cross 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. 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.
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/Logos Can Be Your Contemplative Library
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 several 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. In addition, 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 also 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 Catholic classics, 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, Mary Margaret Funk, 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.
The Rule of Saint Benedict (and more)
Take, for one example, the resources available for 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.
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.
The Bottom Line
Verbum is an investment. Your initial cost, depending on how extensive a library you want to begin with, will run anywhere from about $150 to upwards of $5000. And of course, like any other e-reader, you still have to buy all the individual resources you want to add to your library (and there’s a lot to choose from). 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.
Most people think of contemplation and mysticism in terms of prayer and meditation — and rightly so. But there is still an impressive body of wisdom literature to explore — what Thomas Cranmer said about the Bible applies also to mystical literature: these are teachings to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” You can fill your house with good old fashioned paper books (I certainly have) — nothing wrong with that. But you can take your study of the mystics so much further if you tap into a program as powerful as Verbum or Logos.
Some of the Mystical Writings Available on Verbum/Logos
Here’s a partial list of some of the great mystics whose writings are available on Verbum or Logos. Click on their names to see what’s available.
- Julian of Norwich
- The Cloud of Unknowing
- Evelyn Underhill
- Thomas Merton
- Hildegard of Bingen
- Thomas Keating
- Teresa of Ávila
- John of the Cross
- Thérèse of Lisieux
- Bernard of Clairvaux
- Mary Margaret Funk
- Meister Eckhart
And there are many more. Indeed, you can get almost the complete Classics of Western Spirituality series on Faithlife, which includes not only an impressive array of Christian mystics, but also many Jewish, Muslim and Native American mystical writings as well.
And yes, even three of my books are available on Verbum/Logos:
- Befriending Silence: Discovering the Gifts of Cistercian Spirituality
- Unteachable Lessons: Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught (and Why That’s Okay)
- Eternal Heart: The Mystical Path to a Joyful Life
A Final Word
I know that a lot of blogs are just set up to make money by getting you to click on affiliate links. That can create feelings of distrust and cynicism, and I understand that. Here on Anamchara, I only have affiliate programs with booksellers (like Amazon.com or Bookshop.org), and with Faithlife. In other words, I only make money off of products that I would enthusiastically endorse even if I wasn’t making a commission.
I use Verbum every day. I use it to help write this blog, to prepare talks and retreats that I present, and to further my own study of both the Bible and the mystics. If you are serious about studying the mystics especially in light of theology and the Bible, then I am confident that you will love Verbum. It’s not inexpensive, so it’s only appropriate for the serious student — but if that’s you, then I encourage you to look at this as an investment that will pay you back handsomely with knowledge and insight.
To get started, follow this link: Special Offer for Followers of Carl McColman and Verbum. Once again, in the interest of full disclosure: I get a commission on any Verbum/Logo sales generated by the links on my blog, at no extra charge to you.