Albert Schweitzer

Medical Missionary, Theologian


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Albert Schweitzer
Medical Missionary, Theologian

Picture courtesy of pinterest

Albert Schweitzer was the son of a Lutheran pastor in the village of Günsbach. From an early age he showed a gift for music, and at 9 years old, he was able to deputise for the organist at services in his father’s church. He developed a keen interest in history and natural science. His studies in theology, philosophy and music took him to Strasbourg University, then on to Berlin and Paris. He was deeply religious, and in 1899 he became assistant preacher at St Nicholas’ Church, Strasbourg.

In 1901 he published 'The Mystery of the Kingdom of God'. Schweitzer’s thesis that the teaching of Jesus, dominated by the idea that the world would soon end, created a lot of interest. Before long he was lecturing in the university and became principal of St Thomas’ Theological College in 1903 (from which he had just graduated). His influential work, 'The Quest of the Historical Jesus', was published in 1906. In this book Schweitzer surveyed the numerous lives of Jesus that had been published and developed his theory that Jesus spoke from the conviction of a speedy end of the world and that this lay behind his willingness to suffer and die. Schweitzer then applied similar principles to the teachings of Paul in his 'Paul and his Interpreters', published in 1912.

In 1905 he resigned as principal in order to follow his desire to study medicine in preparation for missionary work overseas. During the 6 years of study he supported himself by his organ concerts and other musical activities. At the same time, he published a major study of J.S. Bach. In 1912 he married Helene Bresslau, and in 1913 the Schweitzers sailed to French Equatorial Africa. They established a hospital at Lambaréné on the model of an African village. His work was interrupted towards the end of World War I, and for a time he was interned in France by the French.

After the war, he wrote further works on philosophy and theology, notably 'The Decay and Restoration of Civilization' and 'Civilization and Ethics'(1923), and later 'The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle' (1931). He then travelled throughout Europe giving organ recitals to raise funds to rebuild the hospital, to which he returned in 1924. He worked there for over 40 years until his death. He regularly returned to Europe for lecture or concert tours to raise money for his work and to see his wife and daughter. His wife’s health prevented her from living at Lambaréné, though she joined him there during World War II.

Schweitzer’s life demonstrated his own commitment to the principle of reverence for all life. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for this philosophy. He had a strong belief that:-

‘the essential element in Christianity as it was preached by Jesus and as it is comprehended in thought, is this, that it is only through love that we can attain to communion with God. All living knowledge of God rests upon this foundation: that we experience him in our lives as will-to-love.’

At his death, he left a compound of over 70 buildings, including a 350 bed general hospital and a leprosy hospital for 200 patients.

BORN:14 January 1875, Kaysersberg, Alsace-Lorraine, Germany (now Haut-Rhin, France)

DIED:4 September 1965 (aged 90), Lambaréné, Gabon, Africa