Albert Schweitzer, Docteur Extraordinaire!
Albert Schweitzer was born on January 14, 1875 in Alsace, then part of Germany, now part of France. His father was a minister. In 1883 he began playing the organ in his father's church and, in time, became a celebrated organist, expert in the care of old organs, and an authority on Bach.
Schweitzer attended the university in Strasbourg to study philosophy and theology, receiving a doctorate in philosophy in1899 and then a doctorate in theology the following year. By 1904 Schweitzer, age 29, had written three books and made significant contributions to music, philosophy, and religion. In addition to these accomplishments, he was also a church pastor, principal of a theological seminary, and a university professor.
In 1905 at the age of 30 Schweitzer decided to become a physician and devote his life to serving the people of Africa. He obtained his medical degree in 1913. With his wife Helene, he built and maintained a hospital in Lambarene in what was then French Equatorial Africa and now is the Republic of Gabon. Schweitzer left Africa for a period of time after the World War I, but returned again in 1924 to Lambarene. A portion of Dr. Schweitzer's hospital was set aside to treat those suffering from leprosy. By the 1960's, there were over 350 patients in the hospital, which was staffed by more than 30 health care workers.
In 1952, Dr. Schweitzer received the Nobel Prize, not for Medicine, but rather the Peace Prize, for his efforts to improve "the Brotherhood of Nations". His ideals continue to stimulate medical missionaries throughout the world. He died in 1965, leaving the world much better than when he entered it.
The keystone of Dr. Schweitzer's thought was what he called "reverence for life" (in French, respect pour la vie; in German, Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben; in Italian, rispeto per la vita). As Schweitzer wrote: "Whenever I injure life of any sort, I must be quite clear whether it is necessary. Beyond the unavoidable, I must never go, not even with what seems insignificant. The farmer, who has mown down a thousand flowers in his meadow as fodder for his cows, must be careful on his way home not to strike off in wanton pastime the head of a single flower by the roadside, for he thereby commits a wrong against life without being under the pressure of necessity."
Last Editorial Review: 10/25/2002