Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Born on January 14, 1875, in the Alsace, he studied philosophy and theology, was known as one of the leading musical figures of his time due to his expertise as organ- builder and organist. He wrote books that covered a variety of topics such as: The Quest of the Historical Jesus, The Philosophy of Civilization, German and French Organ Building and Organ Playing - to mention just a few, and was made famous by his interpretation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

He spent more than 40 years of his life working as a physician in the jungles of Africa. The hospital in Lambarene, Gabon grew out of his efforts. He brought not only his and his friends' expertise as physicians and nurses but also much needed money, raised by the concerts and lectures he gave in Europe and the international sale of his books. He was loved by his patients and colleagues but his most devoted friends were the animals surrounding the hospital. Thekla, the wild pig refused to go to sleep until he knelt down to her "pillow" and sang Brahms's Lullaby and Parsifal the pelican would guard the doctor's room at night, pecking at intruders.

These are lesser known aspects of a man's life, a man who described himself as" full of contradictions" and whose most beautiful memory after 50 years of work in Africa was that he had been able to help the sick. The man was Albert Schweitzer.

In 1952 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Dr. Schweitzer for his efforts in the campaign against nuclear weapons. In his speech, " Peace in the World Today" he professed his belief in the "new attitude of mind " that would be created by the " human spirit in our time". He ended his speech with the following words: "May the nations, in their efforts to keep peace in being, go to the farthest limits of possibility so that the spirit of man shall be given time to develop and grow strong – and time to act." He announced that the prize money would be used toward the expenses of constructing his leprosy hospital.

The hospital at Lambarene became, as Norman Cousins, friend and biographer of Albert Schweitzer said: "a contemporary shrine". The hospital lacked modern sanitation and equipment but the force exerted by "Le Grand Docteur" as he was called, mobilized everybody, attracted many thousands of Africans as well as physicians, politicians and writers from all over the world. This is where he died on September 4, 1965, at the age of 90, surrounded by those he had worked with, treated, spent moments of joy and sadness with, black and white people, united by their love of Dr. Schweitzer.

Why has he become such a powerful figure? Why do people everywhere, young or old, pay him honor although they may not have read his writings? It is because what people see in Albert Schweitzer; not a theologian or an organist or a physician, but above all else, a human being of the kind that everyone should be. He has felt love and concern for all mankind; his concept of "Reverence for Life" is famous. Not only did he have the courage and strength to live his life accordingly but he has had the power to stand up alone, stake all that he has in a war against suffering and disease. This has made many people live better lives, inspired by what one man has done.

But it is much better to let him speak for himself....

The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.

Any religion or philosophy which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion or philosophy.

WE, too, are under the painful law of necessity when, to prolong our own existence, we must bring other creatures to a painful end. Burt we should never cease to consider this as something tragic and incomprehensible.

The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that hunting, the pleasure of killing animals for sport, will be regarded as a mental aberration? When will all the killing that necessity imposes upon us be undertaken with sorrow?

Only at quite rare moments have I felt really glad to be alive. I could not but feel with a sympathy full of regret all the pain that I saw around me, not only that of men but that of the whole creation. From this community of suffering I have never tried to withdraw myself. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take our share of the burden of pain which lies upon the world.

The only way out of today's misery is for people to become worthy of each other's trust.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

Profound love demands a deep conception and out of this develops reverence for the mystery of life. It brings us close to all beings, to the poorest and smallest as well as all others.

Thought is the strongest thing we have. Work is done by true and profound thought. That is a real force.

Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is now, always, and indeed then most truly when it seems most unsuitable to actual circumstances.

Not less strong than the will to truth must be the will to sincerity. Only an age, which can show the courage of sincerity, can possess truth, which works as a spiritual force within it.

Reading Suggestions:

  • Erica Anderson, “The Schweitzer Album”
  • Albert Schweitzer, “On Nuclear War and Peace”, a collection of addresses, letters, articles etc.
  • Norman Cousins, ”Dr Schweitzer of Lambarene”
  • N. Cousins, "A. Schweitzer's Mission - Healing and Peace"

About the author:

Mona Negoita has a medical degree from the University for Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, Romania. Currently in Canada, she is a full time student at the University of Western Ontario in the School of Physiotherapy.

A quotation from one of Dr. Schweitzer's letters left an indelible mark on Mona's mind. She studied Dr. Schweitzer's life and works. To her, he is the epitome of the true human being: loving, kind and compassionate, excellent at his many different jobs, promoting peace and understanding, etc.

Mona Negoita