Written By: Albert Schweitzer
Edited By: Charles R. Joy
Original Edition: The Beacon Press, 1947
Reviewed Edition: The ECCO Press, 1996
Paperback, 355 Pages
Table of Contents
Note: The Spiritual Life was originally published as Albert Schweitzer: An Anthology in 1947 by Beacon Press. It appears
that the only change in the ECCO Press edition is the addition of an unremarkable introduction by Robert Cole and Senator
The Spiritual Life (subtitled Selected Writings Of Albert Schweitzer) is a collection of quotations from Schweitzer's writings. Each quotation is short (typically only a paragraph or two) and is presented without editorial introduction. The quotations are grouped together by subject matter, with each chapter devoted to a particular topic. The chapters vary from 7 to 22 pages in length, which provides sufficient space to cover each topic in some depth. The book's format and length provides the reader with a broader perspective on Schweitzer's thinking than do most such collections. Each quotation is referenced to its original source, and a fairly extensive collection of biographical data (through 1956, Schweitzer's 81st year) is included in an appendix.
A wide variety of topics are covered, including Schweitzer's thoughts on Jesus, Paul and Christianity; civilization and ethics, and the will-to-live and reverence for life. Of particular interest is the final chapter, Continuing Convictions, which includes hard-to-find quotations from Schweitzer's writings in the 1950s.
"All thinking must renounce the attempt to explain the universe. We cannot understand what happens in the universe. What is glorious in it is united with what is full of horror. What is full of meaning is united to what is senseless. The spirit of the universe is at once creative and destructive--it creates while it destroys and destroys while it creates, and therefore it remains to us a riddle. And we must inevitably resign ourselves to this."
"When in the spring the withered gray of the pastures gives place to green, this is due to the millions of young shoots which sprout up freshly from the old roots. In like manner the revival of thought which is essential for our time can only come through a transformation of the opinions and ideals of the many brought about by individual and universal reflection about the meaning of life and of the world."
"It is the fate of 'little faiths' of truth that they, true followers of Peter, whether they be Roman or the Protestant observance, cry out and sink in the sea of ideas, where the followers of Paul, believing in the Spirit, walk secure and undismayed."
"Brahmanism and Buddhism have nothing to offer to any but those whose circumstances enable them to withdraw from the world and to devote their lives to self-perfection beyond the sphere of deeds. To the man who ploughs the field or works in a factory, they can say nothing but that he has not yet arrived at the true knowledge, otherwise he would cease from an activity which binds him to the deceitful and sorrowful world of sense. The only consolation they can offer him is the prospect of his getting a chance, in some future incarnation, to rise to the higher knowledge and to seek the way which leads out of this world."
"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."
"Christianity has had to give up one piece after another of what it still imagined it possessed in the way of explanations of the universe. In this development it grows more and more into an expression of what constitutes its real nature. In a remarkable process of spiritualization it advances further and further from naive naiveté into the region of profound naiveté. The greater the number of explanations that slip from its hands, the more is the first of the Beatitudes, which may indeed be regarded as prophetic word concerning Christianity, fulfilled: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'
When Christianity becomes conscious of its innermost nature, it realizes that is is godliness rising our of inward constraint. The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery. Neither knowledge nor hope for the future can be the pivot of our life or determine its direction. It is intended to be solely determined by our allowing ourselves to be gripped by the ethical God, who reveals Himself in us, and by our yielding our will to His."
"The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up. That is possible for him who never argues and strives with men and facts, but in all experiences retires upon himself, and looks for the ultimate cause of things in himself."
"Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them. Resistance is only a waste of strength."
"Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others; that is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it, so that we may lose courage. The way in which power works is a mystery."
"The conditions of life for the inhabitants of our big cities are as unfavorable as they could be. Naturally, then, those inhabitants are in most danger on their spiritual side. It is doubtful whether big cities have ever been foci of civilization in the sense that in them there has arisen the ideal of a man well and truly developed as a spiritual personality; today, at any rate, the conditions of things are such that true civilization needs to be rescued from the spirit that issues from them and their inhabitants."
"The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret and that we are united with all life that is in nature. Man can no longer live for himself alone. We realize that all life is valuable, and that we are united to all this life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship to the universe."
"Most men are scantily nourished on a modicum of happiness and a number of empty thoughts which life lays on their plates. They are kept in the road of life through stern necessity by elemental duties which they cannot avoid.
Again and again their will-to-live becomes, as it were, intoxicated: spring sunshine, opening flowers moving clouds, waving fields of grain--all affect it. The manifold will-to-live, which is known to us in the splendid phenomena in which it clothes itself, grasps at their personal wills. They would fain join their shouts to the mighty symphony which is proceeding all around them. The world seem beauteous...but the intoxication passes. Dreadful discords only allow them to hear a confused noise, as before, where they had thought to catch the strains of glorious music. The beauty of nature is obscured by the suffering which they discover in every direction. And now they see again that they are driven about like shipwrecked persons on the waste of ocean, only that the boat is at one moment lifted high on the crest of the waves and a moment later sinks deep into the trough; and that now sunshine and now darkening clouds lie on the surface of the water.
And now they would fain persuade themselves that land lies on the horizon toward which they are driven. Their will-to-live befools their intellect so that it makes efforts to see the world as it would like to see it. It forces this intellect to show them a map which lends support to their hope of land. Once again they essay to reach the shore, until finally their arms sink exhausted for the last time and their eyes rove desperately from wave to wave. ...
Thus it is with the will-to-live when it is unreflective.
But is there no way out of this dilemma? Must we either drift aimlessly through lack of reflection or sink in pessimism as the result of reflection? No. We must indeed attempt the limitless ocean, but we may set our sails and steer a determined course."
"Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life. Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and that to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil. Affirmation of the world, that is to say, affirmation of the will-to-live which appears in phenomenal form all around me, is only possible for me in that I give myself out for other life."
"The mistake made by all previous systems of ethics has been the failure to recognize that life as such is the mysterious value with which they have to deal. All spiritual life meets us within natural life. Reverence for life, therefore, is applied to natural life and spiritual life alike. In the parable of Jesus, the shepherd saves not merely the soul of the lost sheep but the whole animal. The stronger the reverence for natural life, the stronger grows also that for spiritual life."
"The operation is finished, and in the hardly lighted dormitory I watch for the sick man's awaking. Scarcely has he recovered consciousness when he stares about him and ejaculates again and again: 'I've no more pain! I've no more pain!' ... His hand feels for mine and will not let it go. Then I begin to tell him and the others who are in the room that it is the Lord Jesus who has told the doctor and his wife to come to the Ogowe, and that white people in Europe give them the money to live here and cure the sick Negroes. Then I have to answer questions as to who these white people are, where they live, and how they know that the natives suffer so much from sickness. The African sun is shining through the coffee bushes into the dark shed, but we black and white sit side by side and feel that we know by experience the meaning of the words: 'And all ye are brethren' (Matt. xxiii:8). Would that my generous friends in Europe could come out here and live through one such hour!"
"The ethic of reverence of life constrains all, in whatever walk of life they may find themselves, to busy themselves intimately with all the human and vital processes which are being played out around them, and to give themselves as men to the man who needs human help and sympathy. It does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing. It does not permit the artist to exist only for his art, even if he gives inspiration to many by its means. It refuses to let the business man imagine that he fulfills all legitimate demands in the course of his business activities. It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others. In what way and in what measure this is his duty, this everyone must decide on the basis of the thoughts which arise in himself, and the circumstances which attend the course of his own life. The self-sacrifice of one may not be particularly in evidence. He carries it out simply by continuing his normal life. Another is called to some striking self-surrender which obliges him to set on one side all regard for his own progress. Let no one measure himself by his conclusions respecting someone else. The destiny of men has to fulfill itself in a thousand ways, so that goodness may be actualized. What every individual has to contribute remains his own secret. Bus we must all mutually share in the knowledge that our existence only attains its true value when we have experienced in ourselves the truth of the declaration: 'He who loses his life shall find it.'"
"To the man who is truly ethical all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower in the scale. He makes distinctions only as each case comes before him, and under the pressure of necessity, as, for example, when it falls to him to decide which of two lives he must sacrifice in order to preserve the other. But all through this series of decisions he is conscious of acting on subjective grounds and arbitrarily, and knows that he bears the responsibility for the life which is sacrificed."
"A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to help all life which he is able to succor, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred. He shatters no ice crystal that sparkles in the sun, tears no leaf from its tree, breaks off no flower, and is careful not to crush any insect as he walks. If he works by lamplight on a summer evening, he prefers to keep the window shut and to breathe stifling air, rather than to see insect after insect fall on his table with singed and sinking wings.
If he goes out in to the street after a rainstorm and sees a worm which has strayed there, he reflects that it will certainly dry up in the sunshine, if it does not quickly regain the damp soil into which it can creep, and so he helps it back from the deadly paving stones into the lush grass. Should he pass by an insect which has fallen into a pool, he spares the time to reach it a leaf or stalk on which it may clamber and save itself."
"There slowly grew up in me an unshakable conviction that we have no right to inflict suffering and death on another living creature unless there is some unavoidable necessity for it, and that we ought all of us to feel what a horrible thing it is to cause suffering and death out of mere thoughtlessness. And this conviction has influenced me only more and more strongly with time. I have grown more and more certain that at the bottom of our heart we all think this, and that we fail to acknowledge it because we are afraid of being laughed at by other people as sentimentalists, though partly also because we allow our best feelings to get blunted. But I vowed that I would never let my feelings get blunted, and that I would never be afraid of the reproach of sentimentalism."
"Faith which refuses to face indisputable facts is but little faith. Truth is always gain, however hard it is to accommodate ourselves to it. To linger in any kind of untruth proves to be a departure from the straight way of faith."
"We cannot abdicate our conscience to an organization, nor to a government. 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Most certainly I am! I cannot escape my responsibility by saying the State will do all that is necessary. It is a tragedy that nowadays so many think and feel otherwise."
Table of Contents of The Spiritual LifeIntroduction
Key to the Sources
- The Sanctuary of Thought
- The Struggle for Truth
- The Search for Beauty
- The Altars of the World
- The Timelessness of Jesus
- The Humanity of Paul
- The Strength of Christianity
- God and His Kingdom
- Affirmation and Negation
- The Dignity of the Individual
- The Transformation of Society
- The Ideals of Civilization
- The Religion of the Spirit
- The Mystical World-View
- Living Ethics
- The Will-to-Live
- Reverence for Life
- The Sacredness of All that Lives
- The Fellowship of Those Who Bear the Mark of Pain
- Continuing ConvictionsBiographical Data
Index of Titles
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