Schweitzer once remarked in conversation, "I think
that the most important trait in a religious worker is
complete devotion to the truth." The remark summarized
the characteristic quality of Schweitzer's own life. When
he was a popular teacher and theological professor in
Strassbourg, he wrote books on New Testament criticism
which reflected his complete responsiveness to the demands
of scholarship and his unwillingness to allow personal
feelings or hopes to interfere with his passion for the
facts. As a writer on Bach and editor of his organ works,
he has emphasized the objectivity needed for the correct
interpretation of Bach. To hear Schweitzer play is to
forget Schweitzer the performer and even Bach the composer,
as the eternal musical forms which Bach caught and set
down on paper flow into the mind of the listener. Furthermore,
Schweitzer's life as a medical missionary in equatorial
Africa testifies to his supreme concern for the abstract
ideal of justice and his unwillingness to let private
ambitions stand in its way. When asked why he went to
Africa when a brilliant career in Europe was open to him,
he replied very simply that the black man had been exploited
by the white long enough and that it was time to try to
even the scales. Now that the white man has developed
the science of medicine it is only decent that he should
share it. If I believe this, he added, I should go myself
and not leave the job to others.
In his books on ethics he comes to the conclusion that
"reverence for life" is the supreme moral rule.
In one sense this puts him in the class of Lebensphilosophen
or thinkers like Nietzsche who find in the will to live
the clue to what is most real and important. But for Schweitzer
the will to live does not lead to the will to power. "I
am life that wills to live," he says. "and as
I examine this will in myself I become aware of its presence
in others." For him the will to live thus becomes
the will to love. In this way Schweitzer has effected
a remarkable personal synthesis of the two main tendencies
in German philosophy, one with its emphasis on spirit,
form, and reason, the other with its stress on living
instincts, and has shown also how they can be set to work
Schweitzer and his bride in 1913
Schweitzer's life it is true not only that various interests
combine to form a harmony but also that they separate
again to produce a most extraordinary variety of accomplishments.
Is it not fair to say that he is the most versatile genius
of our time? He is a skilled concert organist, whose records
are well known in this country, and an authority on organ
construction. His life of Bach is still definitive in
its field, as is his edition of Bach's organ works. He
has published books on ethics, on New Testament criticism
(where his ideas still have to be reckoned with by all
writers on Jesus' apocalyptic teaching), and on the history
of religions with special reference to India. He has not
only taken an M.D. degree and become a practicing medical
missionary, but has set up a research center in Africa
where his associates have isolated the germ of one of
the dreaded tropical diseases.
Now at the age of sixty-seven he keeps up his work in
Africa, healing, teaching, preaching, writing, and continuing
to practice on his organ. His friends have urged him to
come to America, and offers of lectureships and recitals
have literally poured in to the committee which wished
to arrange for his visit. He has always promised that
he would some day come, but since the beginning of the
war has steadfastly maintained that he would not leave
his African neighbors and force them to carry on without
him in a period of such great stress.
During the first world war Schweitzer was interned in
Africa and his hospital practically fell to pieces. After
the war he toured Europe, giving lectures and recitals
which brought enough money to start anew and on a sounder
basis. In a day of complete political anarchy he gives
us a picture of the kind of international unity that the
spirit of love can bring about when it works with devotion
and intelligence. A German Alsatian in a French Protestant
mission in equatorial Africa, he is supported by money
raised in England, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland,
Spain, Canada, and the United States. Is he not a prophet
and teacher with a message for us as truly as for the
Africans to whom he ministers?
Schweitzer Talks with Norman Cousins
by Gunther Flatlow in 1955
a young man, my main ambition was to be a good minister,"
Dr. Schweitzer explained. "I completed my studies;
then, after a while I started to teach. I became
the principal of the seminary. All this while I
had l been studying and thinking about the life
of Jesus and the meaning of Jesus. And the more
I studied and thought, the more convinced I became
that Christian theology had become overcomplicated.
In the early centuries after Christ, the beautiful
simplicities relating to Jesus became somewhat obscured
by the conflicting interpretations and the incredibly
involved dogma growing out of the theological debates."
my effort to get away from intricate Christian
theology based on later interpretations, I
developed some ideas of my own. These ideas
were at variance with the ideas that had been
taught me. Now, what was I to do? Was I to
teach that which I myself had been taught
but that I now did not believe? How could
I, as the principal of a seminary, accept
the responsibility for teaching young men
that which I did not believe?
"But was I to teach that which I did
believe? If I did so, would this not bring
pain to those who had taught me?
"Faced with these two questions. I decided
that I would do neither. I decided that I
would leave the seminary. Instead of trying
to get acceptance for my ideas. involving
painful controversy, I decided I would make
my life my argument I would advocate the things
I believed in terms of the life I lived and
what I did. Instead of vocalizing my belief
in the existence of God within each of us.
I would attempt to have my life and work say
what I believed."
From the archives of the Andover-Harvard
by Leo Cherne
LETTER FROM ALBERT SCHWEITZER
A. Schweitzer 11/9/45
French Equatorial Africa
Frederick M. Eliot, President
American Unitarian Association
26 Beacon Street
Boston 8, Mass. USA
Dear Dr. Eliot:
I would like to thank you for your kind letter
of June 14, 1945. Thank you also for the "History
of Unitarianism" by Dr. Wilbur which
you are sending me, which will give me information
about the history of Unitarian Churches in
the United States. This book has not yet arrived.
Excuse me for not writing you in English.
It is so much easier for me to write in French.
present I am very busy trying to find two
doctors and four nurses in Europe to replace
those who have worked with me here during
the hard war years. I have already been able
to bring a nurse from Alsace, who had formerly
been here at my hospital. Also, I believe
that a young doctor, son of an Alsatian pastor
(whom I knew well) will decide to come. A
nurse in Switzerland (who, like the Alsatian
nurse has worked here before) is ready to
come. But so far she has not been able to,
either by boat or airplane.
We are still cut off from the rest of the
world! Only the mail is beginning to function
more or less normally.
the new personnel has finally arrived, I shall
start them off in their work, for to conduct
a hospital in the midst of a virgin forest
is not a simple thing. Therefore it will be
a matter of months before I can think of returning
to Europe for the rest I need so much.
At present our activities here are complicated
by a famine which has prevailed since the
end of summer, because of the failure of the
crops planted in the summer of 1944! Luckily
I had foreseen that this was going to happen
, and when, in the spring of 1945 there arose
an unhoped for and unique chance to buy rice,
I bought, using for the most part your generous
gift for my seventieth birthday, all that
I could procure in the way of rice. And it
is this rice which has helped us to weather
the crisis. Otherwise it would have been necessary
for some time (until the crops planted in
the summer of 1945 begin to produce) to turn
away the patients who should be hospitalized!
You can well imagine how I think of my friends
in the United States daily, and in particular
of the donors of the wonderful gift collected
for my seventieth birthday by the Unitarian
Service Committee, with feelings of deep gratitude.
. . .
Excuse my writing. I suffer from writer's
cramp, which I inherit from my mother, and
these last weeks my hand is especially tortured.
With my best wishes, and thank you for everything,
My wife sends you her greetings with
from the archives of
the Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Out of My Life and
Thought by Albert Schweitzer (New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1933;
later published as a Mentor Book paperback).
The Philosophy of Civilization
by Albert Schweitzer (New York: The
MacMillian Company, 1960).
Schweitzer was an honorary member
of the Unitarian Church of the Larger
Albert Schweitzer Gallery
from the life of Albert Schweitzer
and the hospital at Lambarene
Schweitzer at his writing table.
of Dr. Schweitzer in Riverside
the organ in the Gunsbach Church
in 1949, at age 74
Black African statue by Bartholdi
at Colmar. It was Schweitzer's
strong and sustained emotional
reaction to this statue as
a boy and a young man that
helped motivate him in making
the commitrment of his life
handwriting reads: 'Lambarene.
To Dr. Ostergaard-Christensen
and his wife in memory of
three months (6.9 to 6.12.58
the musician listening to
recordings of his organ interpretation
of Bach. He was respected
both as an organ builder and
a concert performer, and many
of his funds for the Lambarene
hospital were raised by organ
recitals he gave thoughout
young visitor to the Lambarene
pharmacy is Dr. Schweitzer's
special responsibility. It
is a heavy one. Drugs must
be available for the long
months ahead. Bottles, tin
boxes, and glass tubes must
be procured. All such things
are so hard to get that the
doctor must be a hoarder.
At a recent birthday celebration,
he gave his picture to one
of the staff in an envelope
tied with a ribbon. After
the gifts had been opened
the Doctor called down the
table, 'You can keep the picture
but Iwant the envelope and
the ribbon back!'"
at night, under the flickering
light of a kerosene lamp, the
Doctor toils at the writing-table
in his tiny study-office-bedroom.
He expresses deep anxiety about
completing the third volume
of his Philosophy of Civilization.
Chapters on which he is still
working are hung by strings"the
way a hunter hangs up his pheasants!"
he laughs"to nails
Schweitzer has a special fondness
for antelope fawns. Here he
is with Leonie and Theodore."
sunrise to sundown, every minute
the Doctor is out of doors he
has a sun helmet clamped firmly
on his head. When he first went
to Africa he learned of the
peril to a white man of even
a few second's exposure of the
head to the tropical sun."
almost fifty years about 250
dostors, nurses, and assistants
have worked at Lambarene.
People change rapidly, but
those pictured above are representative."
with his wife, daughter Rhena,
and grandchildren in 1951.
few years' schooling in reading,
writing (French) and arithmetic
is acquired by the boys of the
Lambarene district who go to
the Protestant Mission three
miles below the Hospital on
the Ogowe Riverthe same
mission that sheltered the Schweitzers
when they first arrived in Africa."
with Adlai Stevenson
(Courtesy Boston Public Library,
At Work with Albert Schweitzer
by L. Ostergaard-Christensen,
translated by F .H. Lyon (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1962).
Africa of Albert Schweitzer
by Charles Joy and Melvin Arnold
(New York: Harper and Brothers,
Schweitzer: A Biography
by Geroge Marshall (New York:
Doubleday and Company, 1971).
Albert Schweitzer: The Man
and his Mind by George Seaver
(London: Charles Black, 1955).