Schweizer became a role model and hero for me, inspiring me to return to school to become a surgeon after nearly 10 years as a GP. He had such a “Reverence for Life!”, which for him meant every living thing. Albert was born January 14, 1875, in Alsace-Lorraine, then a German province, and after the Treaty of Versailles was ceded to the French. His father was a Lutheran minister, and Schweitzer himself became ordained in the Lutheran faith. He wrote scholarly books on Christianity, one of them titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. These efforts led him to the inevitable conclusion that the first-century theology derived from Jesus, and those that knew and followed him, is not compatible with, and far removed from, the theology that was later created and promoted by the, then pagan Roman Emperor Constantine, through the Council of Nicea after 325 CE. Nevertheless, this is what is proffered as Christianity in our current world.
In Schweitzer’s later life, he became more philosophical, accepting many views of the Creator and His Creations. Near his life’s end, he became a Unitarian, a non-dogmatic religion that emphasizes spiritual development and the search for truth in all faiths.
But Albert had many facets to his complex character and his rich life. He was a brilliant musician. He committed all the organ works of J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Caesar Frank to memory, and gave numerous organ concerts throughout Europe to raise funds for his hospital in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa. At lunch break and every Sunday, he played his hybrid piano/organ built especially for him to withstand the hot, humid African climate.
Above all, he was a dedicated healer. In addition to his Ph.D. in philosophy and religion from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and his musicology education with an emphasis on the organ and piano, he found time to become a medical doctor. At age 30, as a doctor of philosophy, pastor of St. Nicolas, the Principle of the Theological Seminary in Strassburg, and a renowned organist recognized as an accomplished interpreter of J.S. Bach, and despite the strenuous objections of friends and family, he returned to Medical School for seven years as a beginning student in a field in which he had no previous ability or knowledge. Upon graduation in 1913, he and his Jewish wife headed for Africa to serve the poor and forgotten Africans whom he called his “brothers” before that was part of the pop culture and language.
With his own funds that were obtained through his Bach organ concerts, he built a hospital in Lambaréné, and with his wife serving as nurse and anesthetist, they gave literally their all to help the sick, suffering, and the dying. He treated a variety of maladies, including the gamut of tropical diseases and parasites, and also operated on strangulated hernias, traumatic injuries, and obstetrical emergencies with his wife administering ether anesthesia. Many doctors, inspired by his dedication to life, came to Lambaréné in order to work with him.
He was a prisoner of the French during World War I from 1917 to 1918 because he was German, but he returned to Lambaréné when the war was over and was there until the end of his life.
He died at his own hospital on September 4, 1965, at age 90. “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace,” so prophesied Albert Schweitzer.
I was inspired by Schweitzer not only by his respect for all life, but also by his philosophical stance on religion, music, and human kindness, and the ambition and hard work of an accomplished and successful musician to go back to school to become a doctor so he could go to Africa and help “his brothers” who needed medicine for malaria, their hernias repaired, and their babies delivered much more than they needed J. S. Bach. But Bach did contribute when Schweitzer left his hospital in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa, for those times when he ran out of funds and had to go back to Europe to give Bach organ concerts which refunded him to buy medicines, surgical tools, and hospital beds. The watercolor at the beginning is my rendition of Albert Schweitzer, probably the most generous and selfless “Christian” ever on this earth after JC himself.