Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. It is far from a comprehensive list of Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found in a good research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

The Psychiatric Study of Jesus

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translated and Introduced By: Charles R. Joy

Reviewed Edition:  Peter Smith, Gloucester, MA, 1975  (Reprint of The Beacon Press, 1948)

Hardcover, 79 pages

ISBN 0-8446-2894-8


Table of Contents

When Albert Schweitzer decided to go to Africa, he also decided to go as a medical doctor rather than a missionary. To that end, he enrolled in medical school, passing his medical examinations in 1911. The Psychiatric Study of Jesus was his doctoral thesis, first published in German in 1913.

In this slim volume, Schweitzer critiques three psychiatric studies of Jesus which were then influential. He points out problems with the authors' knowledge of the historical Jesus and with their medical understanding. Schweitzer does not himself perform an analysis of the state of Jesus' mind, but does suggest that the existing evidence does not indicate any mental imbalance of the sort espoused by the other authors.

I have little confidence in psychotherapy in general, and none at all for retroactive analysis of historical figures. Therefore, for me, Schweitzer's criticisms of particular faults in obscure works written almost a hundred years ago are not of great interest. Of more interest is Schweitzer's use of his earlier work on the historical figure of Jesus. Scattered throughout this volume are snippets of Schweitzer's portrait of Jesus, sometimes written more concisely than in the original work. However, those interested in the historical Jesus should read Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus and especially The Mystery of the Kingdom of God rather than this more narrow, academic volume.

Quotes from The Psychiatric Study of Jesus

"The psychopathological method, which conceives its task to be the investigation of the mental aberrations of significant personalities in relation to their works, has recently fallen into disrepute. This is not because of the method, which with proper limitations and in the hands of professional investigators can produce and has produced valuable results, but because it has been faultily pursued by amateurs. The prerequisites which are essential for successful work in this field--exact source knowledge, adequate medical, and particularly psychiatric experience, both under the discipline of critical talents--are very seldom found together. One often encounters in this field of study, therefore, misconceptions of the grossest kind, caused by the lack of one or another of these prerequisites and sometimes by the lack of all of them."

[Regarding sources of information on the historical Jesus] "We must omit the Fourth Gospel also, for the Jesus painted there, as critical investigation since Strauss has more and more recognized, is in the main a freely imagined personality who is design to improve and supplement the Jesus appearing in the first three Gospels; in contra-distinction to this latter personality, a mode of thought and preaching approaching the feeling and understanding of the Greek is attributed to the personality of the Fourth Gospel."

"It should be said, to correct obvious misunderstandings, that Jesus does not mean that he as a normal man is already in his lifetime the Messiah, or the Son of Man. His conviction is that he is ordained to this dignity and will be revealed in it at the end of the world."

"And even in the case of actual historical utterances the interpretation can very easily be an arbitrary one. So, for example, the psychological explanation which Binet-Sangle advances to explain the origin of the hallucinations which he attributes to Jesus seems wholly artificial. To offer with assurance such a mechanical explanation of the appearance of hallucinations even in a living patient with mental disease, a many-sided and comprehensive analysis of the individual would be necessary. ... It cannot be the purpose of this study to express an opinion for or against the existence of any particular form of mental disease in Jesus, or to discuss a clinical diagnosis. Its purpose is merely to test the elementary symptoms which the three authors [of previous studies of Jesus' mental health] have used to support their diagnosis for their historic authenticity, and in case this is established, for their clinical value."

"It should be added that when the Jewish Messiah is called at the same time the Son of God, this has nothing whatever to do with descent from God in any metaphysical sense. The Son of God is only a title that indicates that his place of honor originates in God. In this sense the Jewish kings were already the Sons of God."

[Regarding a psychiatric study of Jesus by Emil Rasmussen] "The author, who is ill-advised from the psychiatric standpoint, identifies the epileptic character--he introduces as paradigms a few great historical figures whose epilepsy has not yet been proved--with isolated psychopathic traits which he thinks he is able to identify in Jesus. Such traits, however, are to be found in all talented people who diverge from the average. ... The medical value of a comparative study of the kind he undertakes is to be rated as exactly zero."

Table of Contents of The Psychiatric Study of Jesus

    Prefatory Note (by Charles Joy)
    Foreword (by Winfred Overholser, M.D.)
    Introduction: Schweitzer's Conception of Jesus (by Charles Joy)
    Preface to the 1913 Edition
    The Psychiatric Study of Jesus

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