Schweitzer, Albert

Albert Schweitzer was born on 14 January 1875, in Kaysensberg, Upper Alsace, then in Germany. Both his parents were French. Both his father and maternal grandfather were ministers, and both of his grandfathers were talented organists. Many of his relatives were accomplished scholars.  As a youngster he insisted that he be no better fed or clothed than the poorest of the other children. He spent his childhood in the village of Günsbach in Alsace, where his father, the local Lutheran pastor, taught him how to play music. He, as the pastor’s son, grew up in an exceptional environment of religious tolerance, and he developed the belief that real Christianity should always work towards a unity of faith and purpose.

Following his school years at the village school, he entered the Gymnasium at Mulhausen where he obtained his Arbitur (final German school degree). He had basic lessons in music at home, and at the Gymnasium he continued his studies on the organ. After Schweitzer’s graduation at Mulhausen he studied for some time in Paris with the famous French organist, Charles-Marie Widor.

At this stage he decided against music as a career, and in 1893 he entered the University of Strasbourg. Schweitzer earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1899 – with a dissertation on the religious philosophy of Kant, and a doctorate in theology the following year. Now he was appointed as pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg, and later became the head of the Theological College of St. Thomas. By the time Schweitzer was 30, he was well-known as a clergyman and musician. He was head of a theological college, pastor of a large church, and a leading interpreter of the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Being an ardent student Schweitzer in 1905 decided to study medicine.

In 1912 he married Helene Bresslau. She studied nursing to assist her husband. Schweitzer received his medical degree in 1913, and during the following spring the Schweitzers sailed for Africa where he wanted to devote his talents to others. Here he started as a missionary at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon), where he set up a tiny hospital, and where he spent most of the rest of his life.

During the First World War Schweitzer and his wife, although they were French, were interned in France as German subjects. They were released in 1918, but ill health prevented him from returning to Africa until 1924. He used the time and opportunity to raise money for the African hospital. The next six years he spent in Europe, preaching in his old church, giving lectures and concerts, and taking medical courses. He wrote On the Edge of the PrimevalForest, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, Civilization and Ethics, and Christianity and the Religions of the World. Earlier, in 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests.

Even though Albert Schweitzer made the jungle of Africa his home, he was not forgotten – for him reverence for life included not only human life but also all other living things.  He extended the original tiny hospital to seventy buildings. By the early sixties it could take care of more than 500 patients in residence at any given time.

At Lambaréné, Schweitzer served as doctor and surgeon, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, and superintendent of the buildings and grounds. He wrote scholarly books, commented on contemporary history, acted as musician, and played host to numerous visitors. He received numerous honours – the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt and honorary doctorates from many universities, and the Nobel Peace Prize (for his philosophy of Reverence for Life – founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitze Hospital in Lambaréné) for 1952, which was handed to him on 10 December 1953. With the $33,000 prize money, he began a leprosarium at Lambaréné.

Schweitzer, Albert, the medical doctor died in Lambaréné on 4 September 1965 at the age og 90, and was buried there where he served the people of Gabon.