Albert Schweitzer was born on January 14, 1875 in Kaysersberg. As he was six months old,
his parents moved to Gunsbach, a village in the Munster valley, where his father Louis, served the protestant parish for 50 years.
He spent his childhood at Gunsbach where he attended the village school for four years. He was a sensitive boy, and from a very early age the compassion and humanitarianism for which he would one day become famous showed itself. He was deeply troubled by the fact that some of the children in Gunsbach were much poorer than he was. He said himself that it was because he had attended the village school that he had been protected against the pride of those who never had any contact with "little people".
The troubles caused to him by his school friends who called him "middle-class boy" or "pastor son" helped him during all his life to approach the fellow man without any prejudice.
The good relationship with the inhabitants, gave him the possibility to learn about the local crafts, tree cultivation, horticulture...
At Gunsbach, he always felt at home as nowhere else, and in the cemetery he could meditate at his parent's graves.
It was the Goethe-Prize, awarded to him in 1928 by the town of Frankfurt (Germany), that enabled him to obtain a plot of ground on which he built "his own house" according to his carefully worked out plans. It's aim was to have a home in that village which he knew for more than 50 years and to have a haven of peace which was necessary in his stormy life, when he came back from Africa or somewhere else.
Another function of the house was to serve as "General headquarters" when he was in Africa or elsewhere. It was the port of call that ensured the communication between Lambaréné and the friends of the work in Europe or in the rest of the world. His wife Hélène and Mrs Martin knew how to make a centre of intense activity of that house. Both made their contribution to the success of his work.
Albert Schweitzer's daughter, Rhena, donated her father's house to the International Association. From that time it was possible to transform a part of the house into a museum.
Formerly, the visitors where especially people who knew well "the Jungle Doctor", while today an increasing number of young people are attracted by Albert Schweitzer's life and thoughts. And everything in the house reminds him lively.
On the right of the entry is Dr. Schweitzer's study and bedroom, which is kept exactly as he left it the last time he was in Gunsbach in 1959. The only thing, which has been added, is his cradle. The family offered it to the museum after his death.
In the corner, on the table is the life-sized reproduction of the head of an African, formally part of the monument dedicated to Admiral Bruat in Colmar, surrounded by the four continents made by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. This statue made a deep impression on the young boy. He said, "His face, with its sad, thoughtful expression, spoke to me of the misery of the Dark Continent".
Dr. Schweitzer himself put up the organ photos on the staircase. They are instruments he had played on all over Europe. It was his way to raise money for his hospital in Lambarene.
Over the door of his bedroom is a painting of a Japanese painter "Veneration Vitae" which means, "Reverence for Life". This was the principle, on which his whole philosophy was based. He wrote: “The greatest good is to preserve life, to promote life to raise life to the highest value which it is capable of. The greatest evil is to destroy life, to injure life, to repress life which is capable of development"
All this he put into practise at Lambaréné. And he tried to make men aware
of their responsibilities towards all life. The Nobel-Peace-Prize, awarded to him in 1953 for the year 1952 is also shown.
The family tree shows how Albert Schweitzer and the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre were second cousins.
Several photographs representing the old hospital and the new one show us that both, men and animals received treatments and how Lambaréné is still necessary today.
In the former living room is Schweitzer's piano fitted with organ pedals on which he played for 48 years in Lambaréné. It was a gift from the Paris Bach Society. He received it 1912, as a reward and in gratitude for the many years during which he acted as organist to the Bach Society. It was a precious instrument to him as it was specially built for the tropics. It is made of hardwood lined with zinc and everything is screwed instead of glued, as the humidity in Lambarene is 100%. With the pedals he could practise as on a real organ.
On the walls are photographs of his parents and friends, concert programmes, an autograph of Franz Liszt offered to Albert Schweitzer by the town of Paris in 1949, paintings and silhouettes made by a fellow-prisoner at St. Rémy de Provence in 1917.
In the showcases are several pieces of souvenirs.
Then, there is the little folding-table on which he wrote letters and scripts for his books during the travels between Europe and Africa; and on which he also practised piano when he had no instrument at his disposal.
Mrs Sonja Poteau-Muller, a former nurse at the hospital in Lambaréné with Dr. Schweitzer, has to manage today the house. She has, with her husband and staff help, to fulfil several tasks. She has to receive the visitors to the museum, to classify the archives and the library, and to maintain correspondence with people all over the world. Than, she has to receive researches, organise meetings and conferences with people who are interested in Schweitzer's thoughts.
After Albert Schweitzer's death in 1965, his former secretary, Ali Silver, began in
1967, to gather and to order his spiritual inheritance.
Over 10.000 letters written by Dr. Schweitzer and approximately 70.000 sent to him, his hand-written books and sermons manuscripts, already published or not, are classified in the archives. The most important of those archive documents are reproduced on microfilms.
Extracts of newspapers, slides, films, tape recordings, videocassettes, and plates are also collected. They permit to keep lively speeches, pieces of music interpreted by A. Schweitzer, and to have a general idea of Albert Schweitzer's life, work and thoughts.
Students, professors, lecturers' come to Gunsbach for researches working on Albert Schweitzer.
Many doctorate-thesis have been written about Schweitzer's life during the last few years.
As a gesture of gratitude for all the facilities granted to him during several years of research, Albert Schweitzer offered 2.000 volumes to Strasbourg University. But still thousands of books are on the shelves of the library in Gunsbach. They are not only interesting by the fact to see what he read but even more by his annotations which show his opinions about them. It is the same for the newspapers, which are kept in.
This house in which Albert Schweitzer came and went between 1890 and 1925, which played an important part in his life has been transformed into a meeting centre for seminars. People can also come to Gunsbach and have there a nice holiday.
Emma Haussknecht, who had worked for a long time with Dr. Schweitzer at
Lambaréné, brought from her rounds through the villages around Lambaréné a great and valuable African collection.
This collection is to be seen in the first floor of the town hall, in the former classroom in which Albert Schweitzer was pupil for four years. Voluntaries villagers from Gunsbach keep this exhibition during the summer holiday.
The Albert Schweitzer footpath, for promenade and musing over Albert
Schweitzer's thought, in 16 text board, through the Gunsbach village.
The total distance is, approximately 920 meters (1000 yards).
Duration of the promenade 55 minutes, depending on, if you read or not the text board. The beginning is in front of the former Gunsbach Presbytery, 3 rue du Dr Albert Schweitzer. The end is, at the House Museum 8 rue de Munster.
Five minutes above the road from Gunsbach to Munster, the Albert Schweitzer monument is to be found. It was erected 1969, on the rock with respect to Schweitzer's wish. The monument was sculptured out of Alsatian sandstone by the sculptor Fritz Behn, a disciple of Rodin. In 1958 Albert Schweitzer wrote: "It is there I should like to remain in stone, so that my friends could pay me a visit, devote a thought to me, and could listen to the murmur of the river, the music that accompanied the flux of my thoughts. It is on this rock that civilisation and ethics was born and the Jesus in his epoch emerged to me. The I feel completely at home."
Albert Schweitzer loved his village church, which inspired him to toleration. There he
found in his youth, a deep satisfaction in the way in which separate religions communities could live so close together and yet so peacefully. Later he wrote: "When I was still only a child I
felt it to be a beautiful thing that in our village Catholics and Protestants worshipped in the same building".
His father's offices in that church also opened him the way for the mission in French Equatorial Africa.
From the moment Albert Schweitzer could reach the organ pedals, as he was only 8 years old, he first sat in for the organist at his father's Gunsbach church.
As to the organ of that church, the bombardments of 1914-1918 caused serious damage to the instrument, Albert Schweitzer appealed to his friends for funds, and gathered the required amount to install in 1931, an organ with pneumatic traction. It is a masterpiece of one of the pioneers of organ building of the 20th century. Another disaster occurred during World War Il. When a shell hit the bell-tower and the organ was damaged. It was repaired summarily at first, and it was only in 1960 that Albert Schweitzer could realise a project he had cherished for years.
The organ was completely renovated, after Schweitzer's detailed design, by the master organ builder Alfred Kern of Strasbourg. This was made possible by Schweitzer's generosity, and the help given by his friends, from far and near who celebrated his 85th birthday by contributing to the renovation. The inauguration was in December 1961. Alas, the Doctor never returned to Gunsbach again, and could not hear what he called "his last work".
In 1993, Alfred Kern's son renovated it again and a simultaneum office was given on this occasion.
Since 1971, a commemorative concert is given, each year the first Sunday of September, in commemoration of Albert Schweitzer's death. Countless organists from many countries come here to enjoy the wonderful nuances of sound produced by this instrument.
Today, Gunsbach is the centre of the radiation of Schweitzer thoughts and work. Several
other Albert Schweitzer Fellowships exist all around the world and closely collaborate with Gunsbach. About 5000 persons visit each year the Albert Schweitzer Museum. They want to extent their
knowledge's and to discover Albert Schweitzer's philosophy and also the man who he was. Many people come also to take part on different seminaries, which are organised at Gunsbach.
The most important today is to actualise Albert Schweitzer's thoughts
To be able to fulfil the tasks in the Albert Schweitzer House, we would be deeply grateful to every one for even the smallest gift.
Maison Albert Schweitzer,
F-68140 Gunsbach, Telephone +33 3 89 77 31 42
Bank CIAL, F-68140 Munster account 424 02 112324
Germany : Volksbank Dreiländereck, Weil am Rhein, Konto 797057, BLZ: 683 900 00
Suisse : Stiftung Albert-Schweitzer-Zentrum Günsbach, UBS, Bern, PC 30-188-0, account n° 96-232,739.0 395
Sonja Poteau-Müller, Director de la Maison Albert Schweitzer
The following words by Albert Schweitzer are excerpted from Chapter 26 of The Philosophy of Civilization and from The Ethics of Reverence for Life in the 1936 winter issue of Christendom. If you want to have more text about the "Origin of Reverence of Life"
I am life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live. As in my own will-to-live there is a longing for wider life and pleasure, with dread of annihilation and pain; so is it also in the will-to-live all around me, whether it can express itself before me or remains dumb. The will-to-live is everywhere present, even as in me. If I am a thinking being, I must regard life other than my own with equal reverence, for I shall know that it longs for fullness and development as deeply as I do myself. Therefore, I see that evil is what annihilates, hampers, or hinders life. And this holds true whether I regard it physically or spiritually. Goodness, by the same token, is the saving or helping of life, the enabling of whatever life I can to attain its highest development.
In me the will-to-live has come to know about other wills-to-live. There is in it a yearning to arrive at unity with itself, to become universal. I can do nothing but hold to the fact that the will-to-live in me manifests itself as will-to-live which desires to become one with other will-to-live.
Ethics consist in my experiencing the compulsion to show to all will-to-live the same reverence as I do my own. A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives. If I save an insect from a puddle, life has devoted itself to life, and the division of life against itself has ended. Whenever my life devotes itself in any way to life, my finite will-to-live experiences union with the infinite will in which all life is one.
An absolute ethic calls for the creating of perfection in this life. It cannot be completely achieved; but that fact does not really matter. In this sense reverence for life is an absolute ethic. It makes only the maintenance and promotion of life rank as good. All destruction of and injury to life, under whatever circumstances, it condemns as evil. True, in practice we are forced to choose. At times we have to decide arbitrarily which forms of life, and even which particular individuals, we shall save, and which we shall destroy. But the principle of reverence for life is nonetheless universal and absolute.
Such an ethic does not abolish for man all ethical conflicts but compels him to decide for himself in each case how far he can remain ethical and how far he must submit himself to the necessity for destruction of and injury to life. No one can decide for him at what point, on each occasion, lies the extreme limit of possibility for his persistence in the preservation and furtherance of life. He alone has to judge this issue, by letting himself be guided by a feeling of the highest possible responsibility towards other life. We must never let ourselves become blunted. We are living in truth, when we experience these conflicts more profoundly.
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.
ORIGIN OF REVERENCE FOR LIFE
edited by Lawrence Gussman
In May, 1964, The Courier reprinted from the World Book Yearbook "Albert Schweitzer Speaks Out," a stirring report in which he writes movingly of his concern for life and its future on this earth. He wrote of the origin of "Reverence for Life" which is the basis for his most important book, The Philosophy of Civilization. The following excerpts are from this report, which are more relevant today than when this article was written by Dr. Schweitzer.
From childhood, I felt a compassion for animals. Even before I started school, I found it impossible to understand why, in my evening prayers, I should pray only for human beings. Consequently, after my mother had prayed with me and had given me a good-night kiss, I secretly recited another prayer, one I had composed myself. It went like this: "Dear God, protect and bless all living beings. Keep them from evil and let them sleep in peace."
The founding of societies to protect animals, which was actively promoted during my youth, made a great impression on me. People actually dared to announce publicly that compassion toward animals was a natural thing, a sign of true humanity and that one must not hide one's feelings about it. I believed that a light was beginning to shine in the darkness of ideas, and that it would glow with ever greater brilliance.
In the closing years of the century, I continuously pondered the question: does our civilization truly possess the ethical character and energy essential to its complete fulfillment? This led me further and further into studies of civilization and ethics as they appeared in philosophical writings from 1850 to 1900. The most important philosophical writings of the time, I discovered, looked upon civilization and ethics as things we had received, things left to us, to be taken for granted and accepted as such. I could not escape the impression that an ethical system regraded as final did not demand much of people or of society. It was, in fact, an ethic "at rest."
In looking back to the end of the century, I could never understand the optimism over the achievements of the times. Everywhere, many seemed to suppose that we had not merely advanced in knowledge, but that we had reached heights in spirituality and ethics we had never attained before and would never lose. But to me it seemed that we not only had failed to surpass the spiritual life of past generations, but that we were really only nibbling from their accomplishments, and that in many respects, our spiritual inheritance was dribbling out of our hands.
On numerous occasions, I was deeply distressed when inhumane ideas, publicly pronounced, met simple acceptance instead of rejection and censure. More and more, I turned my attention to the civilization and ethics of the last decade of the 19th century. As I did so, I decided to write a thorough and critical study on the spiritual state of the times in which I lived.
Despite the mounting pressures at the hospital, I still managed to find time to reflect on our civilization and our ethical values and why they were losing their force. But now I had to tackle a more basic question: could a lasting, more profound, and more vital ethical system be brought about? The sense of satisfaction that came with my recognition of the nature of the problem did not last long, however. Month after month went by without my advancing one step toward a solution. Everything I knew or had read on the subject of ethics served only to confound me even more.
In the summer of 1915, I took my wife, who was in poor health, to Port-Gentil on the Atlantic. I brought the meager drafts of my book along. In September, I received word that the wife of the Swiss missionary, Pelot, had fallen ill at their mission in N'Gômô, and that I was expected to make a medical call there.
The mission was 120 miles upstream on the Ogooué River. My only means of immediate transportation was a small, old steamboat, towing heavily laden scows. Besides myself, there were only a few Africans aboard. Since I had no time to gather provisions in the rush of departure, they kindly offered to share their food with me.
We advanced slowly on our trip upstream. It was the dry season, and we had to feel our way through huge sandbanks. I sat in one of the scows. Before boarding the steamer, I had resolved to devote the entire trip to the problem of how a culture could be brought into being that possessed a greater moral depth and energy than the one we lived in. I filled page on page with disconnected sentences, primarily to center my every thought on the problem. Weariness and a sense of despair paralyzed my thinking.
At sunset of the third day, near the village of Igendja, we moved along an island set in the middle of the wide river. On a sandbank to our left, four hippopotamuses and their young plodded along in our same direction. Just then, in my great tiredness and discouragement, the phrase, "Reverence for Life," struck me like a flash. As far as I knew, it was a phrase I had never heard nor ever read. I realized at once that it carried within itself the solution to the problem that had been torturing me. Now I knew that a system of values which concerns itself only with our relationship to other people is incomplete and therefore lacking in power for good. Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us.
It also became clear to me that this elemental but complete system of values possessed an altogether different depth and an entirely different vitality than one that concerned itself only with human beings. Through reverence for life, we come into a spiritual relationship with the universe. The inner depth of feeling we experience through it gives us the will and the capacity to create a spiritual and ethical set of values that enable us to act on a higher plane, because we then feel ourselves truly at home in our world. Through reverence for life, we become, in effect, different persons. I found it difficult to believe that the way to a deeper and stronger ethic, for which I had searched in vain, had been revealed to me as in a dream. Now I was at last ready to write the planned work on the ethics of civilization.
I began to sketch in the volume on my philosophy of civilization. The plan was simple. First, I would give a general view of civilization and ethics as set forth in the writings of the world's great thinkers. Secondly, I would occupy myself with the essence and the significance of the ethics of reverence for life.
The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: "I am life that wants to live in the midst of other life that wants to live." A thinking man feels compelled to approach all life with the same reverence he has for his own. Thus, all life becomes part of this own experience. From such a point of view, "good" means to maintain life, to further life, to bring developing life to its highest value. "Evil" means to destroy life, to hurt life, to keep life from developing. This, then, is the rational, universal, and basic principle of ethics.
We must try to demonstrate the essential worth of life by doing all we can to alleviate suffering. Reverence for life, which grows out of a proper understanding of the will to live, contains life-affirmation. It acts to create values that serve the material, the spiritual, and ethical development of man.
Early in 1923, the text of my work, now called The Philosophy of Civilization, was ready for printing. But where to find a publisher? The prospects were unfavorable. In Germany, people were raving about Oswald Spengler's fascinating and brilliant work, The Decline of the West. For Spengler, Western culture was something that had bloomed in history and was now dying. This tragic point of view was in keeping with the spirit of the time - the disillusionment and cynicism that came after World War I. In reality, Spengler had not investigated the nature of culture, but was merely describing the historical fate of a culture. How could I, in this climate, expect people to consider my views on civilization and ethics? Thus, because I lacked courage, I did not undertake to make contact with a publisher.
At that time, Mme. Emmy Martin, the widow of an Alsatian pastor, was assisting me with my correspondence. She asked to be allowed to take the manuscript along during her visit to a friend in Munich. She hoped to find a publisher there, even though she did not know any personally. While on an errand, she stopped off at the publishing firm of C.H. Beck and asked to talk to the director. A Mr. Albers introduced himself as the director's representative. Mme. Martin explained her mission. Mr. Albers glanced through the first few pages of the manuscript and said: "We take this manuscript for publication unread. Albert Schweitzer is no stranger to us."
By chance, C.H. Beck was also the publisher of Spengler's book. This is how Spengler and I met. Instead of fighting with each other, Spengler and I became friends and often amiably discussed our conflicting conceptions of culture. The Philosophy of Civilization was published in 1923. A deep friendship developed between Mr. Albers and me. It ended when Hitler came into power, and Mr. Albers took his life rather than live under a dictator.
Today, many schools throughout the world are teaching reverence for life. Everything I hear and learn about the growing recognition of reverence for life strengthens my conviction that it is the fundamental truth mankind needs in order to reach the right spirit, and to be guided by it.
For today's generation, this is of a special significance. Compared to former generations, inhumanity has actually grown. Because we possess atomic weapons, the possibility and temptation to destroy life has increased immeasurably. Due to the tremendous advances in technology, the capacity to destroy life has become the fate of mankind. We can save ourselves from this fate only by abolition of atomic weapons.
We must not allow cruel national thinking to prevail. The abolition of atomic weapons will become possible only if world opinion demands it. And the spirit needed to achieve this can be created only by reverence for life. The course of history demands that not only individuals become ethical personalities, but that nations do so as well.
The Africa Sermons
is a collection of sermons that Albert Schweitzer preached to
the natives on Sunday mornings in Lambarene. Most were transcribed by Europeans in his audience, although a few are taken directly from Schweitzer's notes. The earliest sermons were
preached in 1913-14, soon after Schweitzer was released from his promise to be "mute as a fish." These early sermons, which are often fragmentary, are disappointing to those familiar with
Schweitzer's theology and his Strasbourg sermons. They are fairly self-centered and orthodox, which was probably not
uncommon in early-twentieth-century preaching but which seems out of place for Schweitzer. Melamed attributes this to Schweitzer's concern with not upsetting other missionaries in the area
as well as his unfamiliarity at that time with the natives.
The sermons preached from 1930-35 are more in line with what I would expect from Schweitzer. They are based on the Ten Commandments and the morals and parables of Jesus; little else of Christian belief appears in them. Due to his audience, they are not as sophisticated as the sermons he preached in Europe, but they reflect the same belief in core Christian values and practices. While Melamed warns the reader that the 1930 sermons are "moralistic," this is not surprising; Schweitzer reduced Christianity to its core, but he expected people to implement this core in their daily lives. He wanted Jesus to become King of their hearts; for people to accept Jesus not just in theory but in practice.
The Africa Sermons is not the best introduction to Schweitzer's theology, and its sermons never address Schweitzer's famous Reverence for Life ethics. But for those with an interest in Schweitzer's life and thought, it provides an interesting view of Schweitzer's religious beliefs and his early interaction with the African natives.
[30 November 1913] "We often lose courage. We see those whites, who in their youth learned the gospel, coming to bring you not what is good, but what is bad, in order to make money from alcohol, and that the natives prefer what is bad over what is good. We see how weak you are and how you always fall back into your sins. If we believed only what we see with the eyes in our heads, we would say, 'The Kingdom of God will never come here. Jesus will never be the King of their hearts.' But we believe what we see with the eyes of our hearts. It is for that reason we are certain that the Kingdom of God will one day come here, as it will over all the earth, and that the spirit of God will reign and that Jesus will be King. And because we believe this, we have the courage and the power to be far away from our families and to labor among you. And you believe with us and work with us. And during these Sundays before Christmas, during these Sundays of Advent, think with us of what must come and pray that God will send it soon."
[March 30, 1930] "A man has to know how to be silent. He must not repeat useless things, because he should be afraid to tell lies, to bear false witness. Everyone gives false testimony before God if they tell something that they have not seen, something they do not know. It is possible that you know that it is true that a man has done such or such a thing. But nevertheless you do not have to repeat it. It is not necessary to tell wicked things, even if one knows that it is true. God knows everything--those who have lied, those who have stolen, those who have killed, those who have committed adultery--and it is he who will punish them."
[Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930] "So Jesus received God's permission to die for men so that God would forgive them their sins. And Jesus died for men, for Christians and pagans. ... No one can explain this, because it is a thought of God.
You see this goat that is going by? Does the goat understand what is going on in your head? No! Because it is a goat, and you, you are men. Because you are men you have other, far higher thoughts than a goat. Isn't that true? As with men, so with God. We cannot understand all the thoughts of God."
[August 10, 1930] "There is only one chief who is able to make our hearts obey him, so that out hearts may become tranquil and happy--and that is Jesus. This is why you must always think about what you do. Does this chief allow it? Do you do something that the chief does not allow? That is why I tell each of you, 'Jesus must be the chief of your heart!' Then those who want Jesus to be the chief of their heart will have a tranquil heart, and they will know that this is the Kingdom of God in their heart."
[September 28, 1930] "When someone preaches this saying of Jesus, 'The greatest law is to love others as oneself,' it is like a fisherman who is seated on a raft holding a fishhook. This saying of Jesus is like a fishhook that enters into the hearts of men. Then the man can no longer do what he wants, because he has a fishhook in his heart."
[November 5, 1933] "There is still a question: What will happen to those souls who were wicked in the world? Will God judge these souls and say, 'I do not want to see you' and put them into hell? Oh, we know that if God wanted to judge souls and to put them into hell, ours souls would go to hell. But we know that God is love and that God forgives, and this is why we believe that God will ultimately forgive all those souls, and that if he punishes those who did not obey him in life, this will be only for a time, and in eternity all souls will come back to him. But we who know God, we know his Word and we want to keep our soul pure, so that we may bring a soul to him that has obeyed him in life, so that when we die our soul may return joyfully to God's house. Amen.
Let us pray to God: O God, who hast given us a soul in our life, let us consider that this soul must return to thy house; and may we keep this soul pure for thee, that this soul may obey thee in here in this life when it is far away from thee. So may it be. Amen."
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965): Albert Schweitzer was born the son of a Lutheran pastor, and brought up in the quiet valley villages of
the Vosges Mountains, Alsace, then part of Germany and later part of France. He showed no sign of early talent, but in his teens suddenly developed a late flowering of impassioned curiosity. In
his twenties he wrote seminal works on Bach, on the Historical Jesus and on organ building. He became an acclaimed organist, a church pastor, principal of a theological seminary and a university
professor with a doctorate in philosophy.
None of this satisfied him, and at the age of 30, aware of the desperate need of Africans for medical care, he decided to become a medical doctor and devote the rest of his life to serving the people of Africa. In 1913, at the age of 37, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife, Hélène, opened a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon – then a province of French Equatorial Africa. Here, 150 miles into the interior, with one of the worst climates in the world, he devoted his life to providing health care for the desperately deprived and primitive people of the area.
In 1915 he hit upon the phrase "Reverence for Life" as the elementary and universal principle of ethics which he had been seeking. From the "will to live" evidenced in all living beings, Schweitzer demonstrated the ethical response for humans – Reverence for Life. By stressing the inter-dependence and unity of all life, he was a forerunner of the environmental and animal welfare movements of to-day.
As German citizens working in a French colony, the Schweitzers were technically enemy aliens and were interned in France, where both fell sick, and where their daughter Rhenawas conceived. It was some years before Schweitzer was able to return to Lambarene, while Hélène, suffering from tuberculosis and with a small child to care for, was never able to take up full-time work there again.
The hospital never stopped growing. Schweitzer survived another World War, and in 1953, at the age of 78, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1952. In the speeches and writings during the last years of his life, he emphasized the dangers of nuclear weapons and the nuclear arms race between the superpowers, and was instrumental in reversing American military policy on the testing of hydrogen bombs.
Although no longer practising medicine, he continued to oversee the hospital until his death at the age of 90. By this time there were 72 buildings, with beds for six hundred patients, and the staff comprised 6 doctors and 35 nurses. He passed the administration of the hospital to his daughter Rhena.
Albert Schweitzer and his wife are buried on the hospital grounds in Lambarene.