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Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 - September 4, 1965) was a German-born theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician. He was born in Kaysersberg, Upper-Alsace, Germany (now Haut-Rhin département, France).

He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

As a young theologian his first major work, by which he gained a great reputation, was The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), in which he interpreted the life of Jesus Christ in the light of Jesus' own eschatological convictions. He further established his reputation as a New Testament scholar by other theological studies, like The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930). In these studies he examined the eschatological beliefs of the respective author and through this the message of the New Testament.

Albert Schweitzer was a famous organist in his days, and was highly interested in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He developed a simple style of performance, which he thought to be closer to what Bach had meant it to be. He based his interpretation mainly on his reassessment of Bach's religious intentions. Through the book Johann Sebastian Bach, the final version of which he completed in 1908, he advocated this new style, which has had great influence in the way Bach's music is being treated. Albert Schweitzer was also a famous organ constructor. Recordings of Schweitzer playing the music of Bach are available on CDs.

Schweitzer's philosophy was mainly based on the term Reverence for Life. In his eyes, civilization was in decay because people in general lacked the will to love. It was his firm conviction that all life must be respected and consequently loved, contrary to the then popular philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and on the same line as the Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy. Some people in his days compared his philosophy with that of Francis of Assisi, a comparison he did not object to. His personal credo was: 'I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live'. Life and love in his view are based on and follow out of the same principle: eternal respect for every living thing in the cosmos and a spiritual relationship (a form of surrender) towards the entire universe. On this conviction he built his ethical/cultural theory, which he advocated widely throughout his entire life and which he hoped would result in a new Renaissance of humanity. He envisioned a humanity that is aware of its context , that lives and works in this world in a noble, elevated sense. He emphasized the necessity to thínk, not to just act on superficial suppositions, or to submissively follow other people's opinions. He was convinced that people who think and go to the bottom of things will eventually find the truth and with it the inner strength to love life. In his opinion respect for life, resulting from one's own conscious will to live, makes one live in service of other people and in fact every living creature, on each scale, large and small. Schweitzer was very much respected for putting his theory in practice himself.

Most of his life Albert Schweitzer spent in Lambaréné in what is now Gabon, Africa. After his medical studies in 1913, he went there with his wife to establish a hospital near an already existing mission post. He treated and operated literally thousands of people. He took care of hundreds of lepers and treated many victims of the African sleeping sickness, a real problem there in those days.

In 1914 World War I began and because he was a German on French territory, Schweitzer and his wife were taken captive and temporarily confined to their house. In 1917 they were interned in Garaison, France, and in 1918 in Saint Remy de Provence. There he studied and wrote as much as possible in preparation for among others his famous book Culture and Ethics (published in 1923). In July 1918 he was a free man again, and while working as a medical assistant and assistant-pastor in Strassburg, he was able to finish the book. In the meantime he began to speak and lecture about his ideas wherever he was invited. Not only did he want his philosophy on culture and ethics to become widely known, it also served as a means to raise money for the hospital in Lambaréné, for which he had already emptied his own pockets.

In 1924 he returned to Lambaréné, where he managed to rebuild the decayed hospital, after which he resumed his medical practices. Soon he was no longer the only medical doctor in the hospital, and whenever possible he went to Europe to lecture at universities. Gradually his opinions and concepts became acknowledged, not only in Europe, but worldwide.

From 1939-1948 he stayed in Lambaréné, unable to go back to a Europe in war. Three years after the end of World War II, in 1948, he returned for the first time to Europe and kept travelling back and forth (and once to the USA) as long as he could until his death in 1965.

From 1952 until his death he fought together with Albert Einstein and Russel against nuclear tests and bombs. In 1957 and 1958 he held four speeches over Radio Oslo which were published in Peace or atomic war.

He died in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon).

Selected Bibliography


See also: Christian Eschatology -