Albert Schweitzer
Missionary (1875–1965)

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Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer—a German theologian, musician, minister, and missionary doctor—was one of the remarkable figures of his age. In his youth he was torn between the lure of scholarship and the impulse to serve. He ended up earning doctorates in both theology and philosophy yet found time to serve as a village curate. His book Quest of the Historical Jesus became a theological classic, which sent a generation of scholars back to reexamine the meaning of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God. At the same time, an organist of international repute, he achieved renown as one of the world’s authorities on the work of Bach. Despite all this, he felt called to something more. Inspired by an ad in a missionary magazine, he decided to leave everything behind, to train as a doctor and depart for equatorial Africa.

This he did. He and his wife spent decades operating an outpost in Gabon. His hospital there was patterned after a typical African village; animals wandered freely among the buildings. Aside from his medical work, Schweitzer wrote many books expounding his philosophy of “Reverence for Life,” a perspective that found resonance with African spirituality. Despite his remote posting, Schweitzer’s reputation circled the globe; his image—with white coat, pith helmet, and remarkable moustache—became an icon of selfless service. In 1958 he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He lived to the age of 90 and died in his hospital on September 4, 1965.

“It is not enough merely to exist. It’s not enough to say . . . ‘I do my work well . . . I’m a good churchgoer.’ That’s all very well, but one must do something more. Seek always to do some good somewhere.

—Albert Schweitzer

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.