Fifty-five year old Albert Schweitzer was remembering his life--already full of great accomplishments. Although he would live thirty years more until 1965, he was writing his autobiography. "I was born on January 14th, at Kaysersberg in Upper Alsace," he wrote.* He told of playing the organ at eight, "when my legs were hardly long enough to reach the pedals..." He had already been studying music for three years by then. His education had its ups and downs and he became an acceptable scholar, but his early essays were not brilliant.
Renown came as the result of hard, careful work. For instance, when he served his required year in the military, he took his Greek New Testament along. "It was to avoid disgracing myself in the eyes of a teacher whom I respected..." he wrote. By sleeping only two or three hours a day, he found time to study despite his military duties. He studied the work of notable Bible scholars. This was at a time when prominent German religious writers doubted the truth of the Bible. Albert also saw difficulties in the Bible. Why did Jesus expect his followers to receive persecution when he sent them out (as is told in Matthew chapter ten)? Why didn't he give John a plain answer as to who he was? He mulled these kind of questions as he studied for his doctorate in philosophy.
For his doctorate, he analyzed the religious theory of the famous German philosopher Kant. After he finished that, he immediately began work on his licence in Theology. "...The most obvious thing for me to do was to put together my studies on the problems of the life of Jesus which had occupied me since my first year at the university..."
He worked on questions raised by Jesus' teaching at the last supper. "From the field of the problems of the life of Jesus I had stepped straightway into the problems of primitive Christianity. The problem of the Last Supper belongs to them both. It stands as the central point in the development of the faith of Jesus into the faith of primitive Christianity." As a consequence of his studies, on this day, July 21, 1900, Albert Schweitzer obtained his license to practice Theology.
Albert hoped to turn his studies into a book. However, other projects intervened. He wrote several books on theology and history that included his key ideas. On the whole he showed that those who call the gospels fiction are wrong. Jesus really lived and rose from the dead.
If the Bible is true, its teachings must be put into practice. Although he was world famous as an organist and theologian, and was an expert on organ building--not to mention on the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach--Albert decided to become a medical missionary to Africa. His decision was made because of one of Christ's parables. Jesus told of a rich man who ignored a beggar named Lazarus that sat at his gate. The rich man died and found himself in Hell. Albert saw himself (and the western world) in the place of the rich man and Africa's poor as Lazarus.
After years of medical study, Albert went to Africa. He built a hospital and fought for many years against sleeping sickness, malaria and leprosy. During World War I, he was held as a prisoner, but used the time to write more books. In doing this he practiced what he preached, for in his sermons he had reminded people that no eternal harm can come to people who follow Christ and therefore we should suffer willingly and with rejoicing.
His life is one of the triumphs of the twentieth century. It took its direction from his study of Christ.
- Bowie, Walter Russell. Men of Fire. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961.
- Schweitzer, Albert. Out of My Life and Thought. New York: Mentor, 1953.
- -----------------------. Reverence for Life. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.
- "Schweitzer, Albert." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Runes, Dagobert D. A Treasury of Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1945.
- Various encyclopedia articles.