Heroes of the Faith

September 2018: Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer abandoned a career as academic and musician to work as a doctor and missionary in Africa, and was an outspoken critic of Nazism and nuclear weapons. Trevor Faragher reflects.

By Trevor Faragher

August 5 2018When Albert Schweitzer died in 1965, he was a polymathic figure: biblical scholar, theologian, philosopher, musician, physician and renowned humanitarian. His 23 books were read by millions. His scholarship on Jesus and St Paul aroused intense academic interest. His study of J.S. Bach was judged groundbreaking. His founding of and working in a hospital in Africa was regarded by many as the embodiment of Christianity. After World War Two, his international efforts for peace and his outspoken opposition to atomic weapons earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1952.

Schweitzer was born in 1875 in Alsace-Lorraine where his father was a Lutheran pastor. He was taught music by his father and organ by Charles-Marie Widor in Paris. Schweitzer served his one-year compulsory military service in 1894. In 1898 he went back to Paris to write a PhD dissertation on The Religious Philosophy of Kant at the Sorbonne in Paris, and published his PhD thesis in theology at the University of Tübingen in 1899. His pamphlet The Art of Organ Building and Organ Playing in Germany and France was published in 1906 and his masterly two-volume study on J.S. Bach in 1908.

The book that established his reputation was published in English in 1910 as The Quest of the Historical Jesus. He maintained that the life of Jesus must be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own convictions, which reflected late Jewish eschatology. Later, in 1931, he published The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle.

Dr Trevor Faragher is a retired veterinarian.

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