Reviews of and Quotes From Books About Dr. Schweitzer

Here is my review of a book about Dr. Schweitzer. All the books I review are in English. Many of them are out of print, but generally can be found by a book search from a good used-book dealer. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for links to my reviews of books written by Dr. Schweitzer as well as other related information.

Albert Schweitzer Life and Message

Written By:  Magnus C. Ratter

Reviewed Edition:  The Beacon Press, Boston, 1950

Hardcover, 214 pages

No ISBN Shown


Table of Contents

Albert Schweitzer Life and Message begins with an 82-page description of Albert Schweitzer's life through 1948, and follows up with discussions of Schweitzer's contributions to music, theology, and ethics.  While providing little new information not more readily available elsewhere, each section provides a good discussion of its topic and is thematically consistent with the other sections.  In fact, Ratter's main contribution is to clearly point out the internal consistency in Schweitzer's thought as it ranges across apparently unrelated fields.  Schweitzer's work is always centered on rational approaches to spiritual issues, and he is always concerned primarily with individuals rather than societies.   Whether describing the spiritual background to a Bach chorale, discussing Jesus's belief in the coming Kingdom, working out the ethical implications of Reverence For Life, or providing medical care to desperate Africans, Schweitzer always was exploring spiritual possibilities without undue generalizations or excessive mysticism.

Ratter also forcefully points out the enormity of Schweitzer's decision to abandon his previous endeavors at the age of 30 and devote the rest of his life to missionary medical work.  In what Ratter calls the Threefold Sacrifice, Schweitzer the renowned organist sacrificed his budding fame and playing ability (for his fingers were sure to lose their ability after years in the jungle); Schweitzer the pastor and lecturer sacrificied his pulpit and audience; and Schweitzer the fierce independent sacrificed his financial freedom for a life dependent on the charity of his friends.   Of course, the first two of these sacrifices turned out not be completely required of Schweitzer; his organ playing if anything was enhanced by years of practice on a donated jungle-hardened piano, and after several decades in the jungle his books were better and more in demand than before.  But Schweitzer had no way of knowing of any of this at the time of his decision, and he was convinced that the sacrifice was required and worthwhile.

Ratter clearly holds Schweitzer in the highest possible regard, and does nothing to hide that fact (as more modern biographers are expected to do).  His writing is clear and easily read, although he makes frequent, brief comparisons between Schweitzer's work and analogous efforts--mostly in writing and art--by famous people, many of whom I've never even heard of.  I very much enjoyed this book.  While it is somewhat dated and certainly hard to find, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in Albert Schweitzer.

Quotes from Albert Schweitzer Life and Message

"To the young man [Schweitzer at 24], a pilgrim of eternity, though he would not himself use the Dantesque title, there was no final help in the profound, sometimes obscure, but always serious writings of Kant.  Schweitzer admired the ordered life of the Konigsberg philosopher, felt kinship with his passion for work,but was not persuaded that he had written a consistent philosophy."

[Quoting Schweitzer from Christianity and the Religions of the World]
"For ten years, before I left for Africa, I prepared boys in the parish of St. Nicholas, in Strassburg, for confirmation.  After the [First World War] some of them came to me and thanked me for having taught them so definitely that religion was not a formula for explaining everything.  They said it had been that teaching that kept them from discarding Christianity, whereas so many others in the trenches discarded it, not being prepared to meet the inexplicable.  When you preach, you must lead men out of the desire to know everything to the knowledge of the one thing that is needful, to the desire to be in God, and thus no more to conform to the world but to rise above all mysteries as those who are redeemed from the world."

"From our vantage view, forty-four years later, when success has justified the chosen course, it needs imagination to sense how untoward it appears in 1904, sympathy to sense that the [Threefold Sacrifice] demanded was most real."

"So where some others go to the heathen to proclaim the saving power of Christ (their motive to increase the number of the redeemed), Schweitzer goes to do penance for the wrongs that Africa has suffered at the hands of the whites, moved by compassion to relieve their suffering."

"Jesus went into retirement with his disciples, still the appointed number, to Tyre and to Caesarea Philippi.  He did not flee, as his journey to the north is often interpreted.  One who later went so determinedly to death was not the one to flee his enemies.  In the wilderness, retired from active ministry, enlightenment came: the passage concerning the suffering servant, as written by Isaiah, gave to him his understanding."

"The effect of a first knowledge of the Jesus of history is often, on both Fundamentalist and Liberal, that of a volcanic eruption, destroying with a fierce heat everything once held precious, leaving only a dull dead ash.  Yet in time this yields a richer vineyard than flourished before.  To those who give time to the Schweitzer study a final insight will come.  To experience the Jesus of history as spiritually alive, is vivid as any conversion; it is a spiritual birth with John's Gospel as a birthday card."

"Schweitzer insists that men should think.  Nothing should be accepted contrary to reason.  He requires that men should will to do the right.  In order to know the right, men must think.  The ethic of reverence for life is Schweitzer's answer to the questions men ask when they take a long walk in the country."

"Though his friends are many, Schweitzer is not yet [circa 1949] a public figure.  This is our loss, for if he could be as popular as Gandhi was, our spiritual life would gain.  It will come.  That hundreds of thousands know of G.B. Shaw, approving his enthusiasm for a sensibly ordered state, whereas only hundreds know of Schweitzer, is history repeating itself: the popular organist was Frescobaldi, who merited his passing reputation, but the true musician was Bach.  In confidence we wait."

Table of Contents of Albert Schweitzer Life and Message

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