an outline biography
Albert Schweitzer was born in Kaysersberg, Upper Alsace,
Germany (now Haut-Rhin Department, France) on January 14, 1875
into a family that had a long tradition of service in music,
religion, scholarship and education. He initially seemed destined
for a career in music, even receiving some advanced training in
Paris, but later decided to follow the same calling as his father
- that of becoming a pastor.
He was educated in Theology at the University of Strasbourg
from 1893, was awarded a doctoral degree in 1899, and was
ordained as the curate of the Church of Saint Nicholas in
Strasbourg in 1900. A year later he became an official of the
theological seminary of St. Thomas in that city - his own old
college. His authorship of "The Quest for the Historical Jesus"
(1906) brought him celebrity as a theological scholar.
Albert Schweitzer also gained international repute as an
accomplished organist and authority on organ construction. His
best-known musicological work, Johann Sebastian Bach, was
published in French in 1905 and rewritten in German in 1908; an
English translation appeared in 1911. In this work he emphasized
the religious nature of Bach's music and advocated the simple,
undistorted style of performing Bach's works that was accepted
afterward as the standard type of presentation.
Following on from his reading about the medical needs of
Africans in the Congo he decided to train in medicine so that he
could serve as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor and
between 1905-1913 he duly studied medicine and surgery at the
University of Strasbourg.
He went to Lambaréné, French Equatorial
Africa (now in Gabon), as a medical missionary accompanied by
his new wife in 1913 under the aegis of the Paris Missionary
Society. He set up a hospital based round an old chicken house
where he cared for some 2000 patients during his first year.
In 1917-1918 Schweitzer, as a German national, was interned
in France but wrote, during this period, two volumes of a
projected philosophical study of civilization, The Decay and the
Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics (both
1923; trans. 1923). Concerned in these volumes with ethical
thought in history, Schweitzer contended that modern civilization
is in decay because it lacks the will to love. He suggested that
people should develop a philosophy based on what he termed
"reverence for life," embracing with compassion all forms of
Schweitzer remained in Europe until 1924, when he returned
to Lambaréné. In spite of many obstacles, he
rebuilt his hospital and equipped it to provide care for
thousands of Africans, including 300 lepers. He returned
frequently to Europe to lecture and give organ recitals. His
performances earnt substantial fees which were used in the
building of better facilities at Lambaréné. Much
money also flowed in by way of donation.
In another theological study "The Mysticism of Paul the
Apostle" (1930; trans. 1931), he examined the New Testament from
the eschatological viewpoint of its reputed authors.
In 1949 Albert he visited the United States and in 1952 he
received the Nobel Peace Prize to add to such other recognitions
as the Goethe prize of Frankfurt and numerous honorary doctorates
awarded by Universities.
The monies associated with the Nobel Prize were expended
towards the accomodation of persons afflicted with leprosy at
In the early 1960's the medical mission at
Lambaréné could accomodate some five hundred
Albert Schweitzer died September 4, 1965 and was buried in
the grounds of the medical mission to which he had devoted his
life. He was ninety years of age at the time and had remained
actively involved in the medical mission at
Lambaréné for almost fifty years.