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.

Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer
Edited by: James Brabazon

Reviewed Edition:  Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2005
Softcover, 173 pages

ISBN 9781570756023


Table of Contents

Albert Schweitzer: Selected Writings is a welcome addition to the many existing compilations of Schweitzer quotations. James Brabazon has a comprehensive knowledge of Schweitzer's writings. He selected key passages, many of them several pages in length. He provides short but very helpful context discussions before each quotation, and many of the quotes are from difficult-to-find sources.

The first section concerns Schweitzer's ideas on Jesus' eschatological conception of the Kingdom of God. While Brabazon provides extensive, long quotations from key passages, I believe most readers will not fully understand or be convinced by these excerpts. Schweitzer's argument is difficult to summarize and readers intrigued by the discussion in this volume would do well to turn to Schweitzer's detailed and understandable treatment of the subject in The Mystery of the Kingdom of God.

The second section discusses Schweitzer's views on music, particularly Bach. This section seems somewhat out of place, perhaps being included in an effort to demonstrate Schweitzer's wide range of thought. Musicians may appreciate it more than those of us without significant musical training.

The final two sections concern Schweitzer's ethical thought and action. This is the heart of the book. It contains the best presentation of the ethics of Reverence for Life that I have found. The material includes transcripts of Schweitzer's early sermons on ethics, extended quotations from Out of My Life and Thought and The Philosophy of Civilization, and shorter quotations from many other sources. Albert Schweitzer: Selected Writings is highly recommended for those looking for a clear, concise explanation of Reverence for Life.

Quotes from Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings

[Quote from The Mystery of the Kingdom of God]   "The sending out of the Twelve was the last effort to bring about the Kingdom. When they returned and told him of their success and reported that they had power over the evil spirits, it showed to him that all was ready, and he expected the immediate dawn of the Kingdom. [...]

But the Kingdom that Jesus expected so soon failed to appear. This first eschatological delay and postponement was momentous for the fate of the gospel tradition: all the events related to the mission of the Twelve now became unintelligible, because nobody was aware of the intense eschatological expectation that at that time inspired Jesus and his following. [...]

Similarly, the motives of Jesus' disappearance became unintelligible. It seems to be a case of flight, though the accounts give no hint as to how this could have come about. [...]

The secret is made known to [Jesus] thorugh the Scripture: God brings the Kingdom about without the general Affliction. He whom God has destined to reign in glory accomplishes it himself by being tried as a malefactor and condemned, allowing the others to go free: He makes the atonement for them. [emphasis in original]

[From a sermon preached on November 19, 1905]   "How is Jesus alive for us? Do not attempt to prove his presence by formulations, even if they are sanctified by the ages. Of late I have very nearly lost my temper when some pious soul has come to me saying that no one can believe in the living presence of Jesus if they do not believe in his physical resurrection and the eternal existence of his glorified body. Jesus lives for everyone whom he directs, in matters great and small, as if he were here among us. He tells them 'Do this or that.' And they answer, quite simply, 'Yes!' and go about their job, humble and busy.... The fact that the Lord still, in our days, gives his orders, proves to me--and for me it is the only proof--that he is neither a ghost nor dead, but that he lives."

[Quote from Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer]   "To begin with, it is a crime against the style of Bach's music that we perform it with huge orchestras and massed choirs. The Cantatas and the Passion music were written for choirs of twenty-five to thirty voices, and an orchestra of about the same number. Bach's orchestra does not accompany the choir, but is a partner with equal rights, and there is no such thing as an orchestral equivalent to a choir of a hundred and fifty voices.

[From a letter to music critic Gustav von Lupke regarding Schweitzer's decision to be a missionary in Africa]   "I want to be a simple human being, doing something small in the spirit of Jesus....'What you have done to the least of these my brethren you have done to me.' Just as the wind is driven to spend its force in the big empty spaces so must the men who know the laws of the spirit go where men are most needed."

[From a Radio Brazzaville interview, quoted in Anderson's The Schweitzer Album]    "I was always, even as a boy, engrossed in the philosophical problem of the relation between emotion and reason. Certain truths originate in feeling, others in the mind. Those truths that we derive from our emotions are of a moral kind--compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love for our neighbor. Reason, on the other hand, teaches us the truths that come from reflection.

But with the great spirits of our world--the Hebrew prophets, Christ, Zoroaster, the Buddha, and others--feeling is always paramount. In them emotion holds its ground against reason, and all of us have an inner assurance that the truth of emotion that these great spiritual figures reveal to us is the most profound and the most important truth."

[From a sermon preached on February 16, 1919]   "Let us take as a example the sayings about the greatest of all commandments. What does it mean to love God with all our heart and to do good only out of love for him? Follow up this train of thought and a whole world of new ideas will open. When in life have you chosen to do good out of love for God when you might otherwise have chosen to do evil? [...]

Life means strength, will, arising from the abyss, dissolving into the abyss again. Life is feeling, experience, suffering. If you study life deeply, looking with perceptive eyes into the vast animated chaos of this creation, its profundity will seize you suddenly with dizziness. In everything you recognize yourself. [...] I cannot but have reverence for all that is called life. I cannot avoid compassion for everything that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of morality."

Table of Contents of Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings

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