Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) was an Alsatian (German)
theologian, musician, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. He was born in Kaysersberg, Alsace-Lorraine, Germany (now in Alsace, France). He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for founding
the Lambaréné Hospital in Gabon in west central Africa.
Schweitzer entered into his intensive studies of theology and philosophy in 1893 at the University of Strasbourg where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, with a dissertation on the religious philosophy of
Immanuel Kant, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900.
Having decided to go to Africa as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor, Schweitzer in 1905 began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg. In 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in
French Equatorial Africa. In 1918 Schweitzer returned to Alsace with his wife, where their daughter was born (January 1919). They enjoyed several years there with Albert preaching in his old church, giving lectures and concerts, taking medical courses,
Schweitzer returned to Lambaréné in 1924 and except for relatively short periods of time, spent the remainder of his life there. At Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator
of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician, host to countless visitors.
Schweitzer's philosophy is developed in Philosophy of Civilization (
The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, 1923;
Civilization and Ethics, 1923; and Reverence for Life, transl. 1969). "Reverence for life" is the term Schweitzer used for a universal concept of ethics. He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism
and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.
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 in the light of Jesus' own eschatological convictions. He argued that,
of all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, the ones that are most certainly His are the ones that give the impression that the end of the world is at hand. (Interestingly, the well-known group called the Jesus Seminar, which likewise sets
out to rate the sayings attributed to Jesus with different degrees of certainty, has drawn the opposite conclusion, and rejects all the so-called apocalyptic sayings of Jesus as unauthentic.) Schweitzer himself drew the conclusion that Jesus believed
in the imminent end of the world, that he was wrong, and that therefore he was not infallible or inspired or divine.
"Schweitzer still called on people to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth - not by holding to what he believed about himself or to the specifics of what he taught, but by following him in his willingness to give himself for the sake of humanity."
He furthered his reputation as a New Testament scholar with other theological studies including his medical degree dissertation,
The Psychiatric Study of Jesus (1911), and
The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930). In his study of Paul he examined the eschatological beliefs of Paul and through this the message of the New Testament.
He published other books on theology, including a revolutionary work on New Testament criticism that shaped Western liberal theology and several books on
- The Quest Of The Historical Jesus; A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, (1906), Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2001 edition:
- The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism, (1911), Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith Publisher, 1948,
- The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus' Messiahship and Passion, (1914), Prometheus Books, 1985,
- The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and
Civilization and Ethics (1923) combined in one volume, Prometheus Books, 1987,
- The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, (1930), Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998,
- Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (1933), Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998,