Born : 14 January 1875
Died : 4 September 1965 (aged 90)
Nationality : German (1875–1919), French (1919–1965)
Fields : Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Theology
Known for : Music, Philanthropy, Theology
Notable Awards : Goethe Prize (1928), Nobel Peace Prize (1952)
Albert Schweitzer (14 January 1875 – 4 September 1965) was a German (Alsatian) theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. He was born in Kaysersberg in the province of Alsace-Lorraine, in the German Empire. Schweitzer, a Lutheran, challenged both the secular view of Jesus as depicted by historical-critical methodology current at his time in certain academic circles, as well as the traditional Christian view. He depicted Jesus as one who literally believed the end of the world was coming in his own lifetime and believed himself to be a world savior. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of "Reverence for Life", expressed in many ways, but most famously in founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, now in Gabon, west central Africa (then French Equatorial Africa). As a music scholar and organist, he studied the music of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and influenced the Organ reform movement (Orgelbewegung).
Schweitzer's passionate quest was to discover a universal ethical philosophy, anchored in a universal reality, and make it directly available to all of humanity.
Born in Kaysersberg, Schweitzer spent his childhood in the village of Gunsbach, Alsace (German:Günsbach), where his father, the local Lutheran-Evangelical pastor, taught him how to play music. Long disputed, the predominantly German-speaking region of Alsace or Elsaß was annexed by Germany in 1871; after World War I, it was reintegrated into France. The tiny village is home to the Association Internationale Albert Schweitzer (AIAS). The medieval parish church of Gunsbach was of a special Protestant-Catholic kind found in various places in Germany even today. It was shared by the two congregations, which held their prayers in different areas of the same church at different times on Sundays. This compromise arose after the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty Years War. Schweitzer, the pastor's son, grew up in this exceptional environment of religious tolerance, and developed the belief that true Christianity should always work towards a unity of faith and purpose.
Schweitzer's home language was an Alsatian dialect of German. At Mulhouse high school he got his "Abitur" (the certificate at the end of secondary education), in 1893. He studied organ there from 1885-1893 with Eugène Munch, organist of the Protestant Temple, who inspired Schweitzer with his profound enthusiasm for the music of German composer Richard Wagner. In 1893 he played for the Frenchorganist Charles-Marie Widor (at Saint-Sulpice, Paris), for whom Johann Sebastian Bach's organ-music contained a mystic sense of the eternal. Widor, deeply impressed, agreed to teach Schweitzer without fee, and a great and influential friendship was begun.
From 1893 he studied Protestant theology at the Kaiser Wilhelm University of Stransburg. There he also received instruction in piano and counterpoint from professor Gustav Jacobsthal, and associated closely with Ernest Munch (the brother of his former teacher), organist of St William church, who was also a passionate admirer of J.S. Bach's music. Schweitzer did his one year's obligatory military service in 1894. Schweitzer saw many operas of Richard Wagner at Straßburg (under Otto Lohse), and in 1896 he pulled together the funds to visit Bayreuth to see Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal, and was deeply affected. Soon afterwards he visited the new organ in the Liederhalle at Stuttgart, and, appalled by its lack of clarity, experienced another great realization. In 1898 he went back to Paris to write a PhD. Dissertation on The Religious Philosophy of Kant at the Sorbonne, and to study in earnest with Widor. Here he often met with the elderly Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. He also studied piano at that time with Marie Jaëll. He completed his theology degree in 1899 and published his Ph.D. at the University of Tübingen in 1899.
At the age of 30, in 1905, he answered the call of "The Society Of The Evangelist Missions of Paris" who was looking for a medical doctor. However, the committee of this French Missionary Society was not ready to accept his offer, considering his Lutheran theology to be “incorrect”. He could easily have obtained a place in a German Evangelical mission, but wished to follow the original call despite the doctrinal difficulties. Amid a hail of protests from his friends, family and colleagues, he resigned his post and re-entered the University as a student in a punishing seven-year course towards the degree of a Doctorate in Medicine, a subject in which he had little knowledge or previous aptitude. He planned to spread the Gospel by the example of his Christian labor of healing, rather than through the verbal process of preaching, and believed that this service should be acceptable within any branch of Christian teaching.
Even in his study of medicine, and through his clinical course, Schweitzer pursued the ideal of the philosopher-scientist. By extreme application and hard work he completed his studies successfully at the end of 1911. His medical degree dissertation was another work on the historical Jesus, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus. In June 1912 he married Helene Bresslau, daughter of the Jewish pan-Germanist historian Harry Bresslau.
In 1912, now armed with a medical degree, Schweitzer made a definite proposal to go as a medical doctor to work at his own expense in the Paris Missionary Society's mission at Lambaréné on the Ogooué river, in what is now the Gabon, in Africa (then a French colony). He refused to attend a committee to inquire into his doctrine, but met each committee member personally and was at last accepted. By concerts and other fund-raising he was ready to equip a small hospital. In Spring 1913 he and his wife set off to establish a hospital near an already existing mission post. The site was nearly 200 miles (14 days by raft) upstream from the mouth of the Ogooé at Port Gentil(Cape Lopez) (and so accessible to external communications), but downstream of most tributaries, so that internal communications within Gabon converged towards Lambaréné.
In the first nine months he and his wife had about 2,000 patients to examine, some traveling many days and hundreds of kilometers to reach him. In addition to injuries he was often treating severe sandflea and crawcraw sores (washing with mercuric chloride), framboesia (using arseno-benzolinjections), tropical eating sores (cleaning and potassium permanganate), heart disease (treated with digitalin), tropical dysentery (emetine (syrup of ipecac) and arseno-benzol), tropical malaria(quinine and Arrhenal arsenic), sleeping sickness, treated at that time with atoxyl, leprosy(chaulmoogra oil), fevers, strangulated hernias (surgery), necrosis, abdominal tumours and chronicconstipation and nicotine poisoning, while also attempting to deal with deliberate poisonings,fetishism and fear of cannibalism among the Mbahouin.
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