When Faith and Technology Collide: An Interview with Verbum's Alex Renn
Each of the last three popes - Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II - has independently described the modern new media as "gifts from God." This is partly because these tools are tremendous vehicles for evangelization, allowing us to invite millions of people who would never enter a church to encounter Christ, but it's also because they allow unprecedented ways to study the Scriptures and Church teachings. Just imagine if St. Paul could instruct thousands of converts virtually instead of setting out on dangerous sea voyages. Imagine if St. Thomas Aquinas had access to digitized, searchable versions of St. Augustine's writings or could quickly search through his own work for a particular Bible verse, phrase, or doctrine. That's exactly what we can do today.
One of my favorite digital tools is the Verbum software, created by Logos. Several years ago, Logos originally launched a digital Bible tool for Protestants, but a couple years ago they created a stand-alone version of their software just for Catholics, called Verbum, which gives access to an entire library of digital resources, on any device. Users can read the Bible, the Church Fathers, the writings of the saints, texts from Church councils, and even contemporary theology books, all on their computer, phone, or tablet. The best part is that all these resources are linked together, allowing you to explore these documents in light of the Church's entire Tradition. Here's a short overview:
We at Word on Fire are especially excited to partner with Verbum in offering the Word on Fire Video Library. The collection includes nearly 50 videos from Fr. Barron and ties them to the Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers, conciliar documents, and works of modern scholars. The entire library is included in all Verbum library packages (except for the Basic package.) If you decide to purchase one of the libraries, be sure to use the coupon code WORDONFIRE at checkout to receive an extra 15% off!
Today I sit down with Alex Renn, Marketing and Operations Team Lead at Verbum. In addition to Verbum's general features, we also discuss an exciting one that Word on Fire has partnered to create.
BRANDON VOGT: Tell us a little about Verbum. How did it come about and how does it serve the Church?
ALEX RENN: Verbum started just three years ago as an expansion of Logos Bible Software. But don’t let our age fool you. Logos has been building tools for studying the Bible for over 20 years, and Verbum was able to step in to twenty years’ experience and keep moving forward.
Verbum's goal from day one has been to build a tool that is useful for everyone in the Church. Anywhere Catholics are teaching or learning, we want to be there promoting growth. Verbum was designed to make studying the Faith easier and more productive. Citations and cross-references are instantly accessible, advanced tools pull in multiple scholarly sources for commentary and discussion of Bible passages, and more.
For example, when reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we see a footnote on the quote “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.” This footnote cites “DV 12 § 3,” which I can find, in the Abbreviations section in the back, means Dei Verbum and I can hopefully find my way to the paragraph once I track down the document. Verbum makes this link live and on hover tells you what the abbreviation stands for. If you click, it opens the cited document right to the reference you’re looking for.
Personally, I went from not paying much attention to footnotes (maybe I’d read the original document someday), to expecting to be able to read the excerpt in context immediately. Verbum makes it so easy, it’s hard not to use it.
BRANDON: Why is technology like the Verbum software so important to catechesis and evangelization?
ALEX RENN: Verbum is the tool we’ve been looking for for catechesis and evangelization. How can you catechize without being properly catechized yourself? And how can you evangelize without a deep understanding and love of Scripture and Tradition?
Verbum's tools make studying the Faith beautiful and easy. Rather than seeking one trustworthy book or author, Verbum brings authoritative texts from throughout the Tradition together and allows you to study by passage or topic.
Priests (as well as anyone else teaching the Faith) will be able to draw from the whole Tradition, which adds richness and depth to homilies, RCIA classes, Bible studies, and more. Plus, these tools are accessible to everyone, so even if you’ve never been to seminary, or studied theology, you can find answers and easily navigate Catholicism’s rich literary Tradition.
BRANDON: One of the key features of Verbum is that it allows Catholics to read the Scripture in the heart of the Church. How does this help open up the Scriptures?
ALEX RENN: As I’ve said before, Verbum brings texts from throughout the Tradition together making it easy to see how the passage or topic you’re studying has been interpreted throughout the history of the Church. Each commentary and Bible study offers different perspectives. Verbum brings these all to bear on your study so you can see – in one place – what Doctors of the Church like Augustine and Aquinas said about a passage, or pull in your favorite modern scholars.
Verbum's Passage Guide presents you with tons of information on a passage. If we were studying John’s Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, we could quickly see everywhere it’s mentioned in the Catechism, or in Church documents such as papal encyclicals and exhortations. We can jump right to references to the passage by Church Fathers or see where Aquinas engaged with the verse in any of his works.
Plus tools like Factbook bring you more information on the characters, places, and traditions of the biblical world, enlightening your study, and clarifying context. Many modern authors even use Verbum when writing their own commentaries and Bible studies.
BRANDON: What sorts of new and upcoming projects are you guys working on?
ALEX RENN: We’ve got a lot of exciting initiatives coming down the pipe. Our High School Textbook Series brings a truly digital solution to the classroom. Many schools have embraced technology, but the software and apps for those devices are disappointingly similar to the physical books we’ve always used. Verbum takes advantage of that new technology to present better information more effectively.
We’re also launching Spanish Libraries this month, which obviously has huge potential in the Catholic world. We’re very excited to see that get off the ground.
And we’re always working to improve what we’ve already built. As I mentioned earlier, we started with a narrow focus on Bible Study, and are always working to make the software interact more and more with the texts of the Tradition. Suffice to say our liturgical tools and content are getting a lot of attention right now, too.
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