Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but often can be found in a 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 Africa Sermons

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Edited and Translated by: Steven E. G. Melamed, Sr.

Reviewed Edition:  Syracuse University Press, 2003

Hardcover, 200 pages

ISBN 08156292067


Table of Contents

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.

Quotes from The Africa Sermons

[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."

Table of Contents of The Africa Sermons

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