Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Albert Schweitzer

In an era when shameless self-promoters talk about their own "genius" or "great ideas" or "talent on loan from God", it's easy to forget what a genius looks like. Albert Schweitzer was a genius and in the 20th Century was presented as the ideal of service to mankind. Today, he's become a distant memory. Who mentions Albert Schweitzer anymore? (Answer to my rhetorical question: The Simpsons. Bartender Moe complains about Homer's liberal leadership of the Stonecutters stating "He's gone mad with power, like that Albert Schweitzer guy." This is yet another reason to love The Simpsons.)

If you ask most people about Schweitzer, they know that he was a doctor in Africa for most of his life, and that he won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1952. Some might also know that he was considered a virtuoso of the organ, and some considered him the greatest performer of the organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach of his generation.

Less known among his accomplishments are his theological publications. His 1906 work The Quest For The Historical Jesus was considered the last word on the topic for many decades, and nearly no theologians even attempted to plumb the depths further that Schweitzer did. Even today, people studying the historical Jesus must vigorously defend any conclusion they come to that strongly disagrees with the work of Schweitzer.

Another biographical fact about Schweitzer that is sometimes forgotten is his nationality. He was born is the Alsace-Lorraine region, the much disputed area between Germany and France, but given when he was born, this made him a German citizen. During World War I, he was arrested for being a German in a French colony in Africa. First in 1914, he and his wife were under house arrest, then sent to France to be interned. When the war was over, he applied for French citizenship. It wasn't until 1924 that he was able to return to Gabon and rebuild his decaying hospital, but others followed him then, and he wasn't the only doctor in the region, which gave him time to return to Europe on occasion to give lectures.

Albert Schweitzer died 42 years ago today, on September 4, 1965, at the age of 90. Every day is a good day to think a little bit about the life of Albert Schweitzer.

No comments: