Albert Schweitzer

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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Albert Schweitzer - Humanitarian, Physician, Theologian, Scholar, Musician, Philosopher, Author

January 14, 1875, Kayserburg, Alsace, 11:55 PM, LMT (Source: birth certificate, quoted by Bruno Huber as per AstroDataBank) Died, on September 4, 1965, Lambarene, Africa.                    

(Ascendant, Libra; MC, Cancer; Sun conjunct Mercury in Capricorn; Moon conjunct Neptune and NN in Aries; Venus in Sagittarius; Mars and Jupiter in Scorpio; Saturn in Aquarius; Uranus in Leo, elevated; Pluto in Taurus)                                                                                                                      

Schweitzer was a fine example of an initiate in the Western world. He attained the peak of achievement (Capricorn)  in many fields.  He was ever the man of conscience (Capricorn) and at length forced himself to decide (Libra) between the life of continuing achievement and social respect, and a life of selfless, sacrificial service. His sense of duty prevailed, and he undertook the medical activity (indicated by Scorpio) for which he has become world-renowned. It is the classic example of the “rich young man” who did ;not “go sadly away” when the Christ asked him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor. This is precisely what Albert Schweitzer did, thus, descending from the Capricornian mountain top into the valleys of service as a healer to those far less fortunate. His major ray seems very much the second ray of Love-Wisdom. Like Mother Theresa, after him, he “emptied the bowl” in Aquarian service (his ruling planet Saturn is placed in Aquarius), sharing all he had and all he was with the “little ones”.


A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.

A man can do only what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.

A man does not have to be an angel in order to be saint.

A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind.

Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.

As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins.

As we acquire more knowldege, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.

By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.

Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

Day by day we should weigh what we have granted to the spirit of the world against what we have denied to the spirit of Jesus, in thought and especially in deed.

Do not let Sunday be taken from you If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.

Example is leadership.

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.

I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.

I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.

I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end.

I wanted to be a doctor that I might be able to work without having to talk because for years I had been giving myself out in words.

If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.

Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you, and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life it is bad to damage and destroy life.

Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.

Man can hardly even recognize the devils of his own creation.

Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.

Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile.

Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will - his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals.

One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.

One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.

One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.

Revenge... is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion.

Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principle of morality.

Reverence for life is the highest court of appeal.

Seek always to do some good, somewhere. Every man has to seek in his own way to realize his true worth. You must give some time to your fellow man. For remember, you don't live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too.

Serious illness doesn't bother me for long because I am too inhospitable a host.

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.

The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.

The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others.

The willow which bends to the tempest, often escapes better than the oak which resists it; and so in great calamities, it sometimes happens that light and frivolous spirits recover their elasticity and presence of mind sooner than those of a loftier character.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.

This new form of activity medicine I could not represent to myself as talking about the religion of love, but only as an actual putting it into practice.

Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is now - always.

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.

We cannot possibly let ourselves get frozen into regarding everyone we do not know as an absolute stranger.

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.

Whoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others. We must all carry our share of the misery which lies upon the world.

Whosoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others.

Why seeketh thou revenge, O man! with what purpose is it that thou pursuest it? Thinkest thou to pain thine adversary by it? Know that thou thyself feelest its greatest torments.


Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 - September 4, 1965) was a German theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician. He was born in Kaysersberg, Upper-Alsace, Germany (now Haut-Rhin département, France). He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
As a young theologian his first major work, by which he gained a great reputation, was The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), in which he interpreted the life of Jesus Christ in the light of Jesus' own eschatological convictions. He established his reputation further as a New Testament scholar by other theological studies, like The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930). In these studies he examined the eschatological beliefs of Paul and through this the message of the New Testament.
was a famous organist in his day, and was highly interested in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He developed a simple style of performance, which he thought to be closer to what Bach had meant it to be. He based his interpretation mainly on his reassessment of Bach's religious intentions. Through the book Johann Sebastian Bach, the final version of which he completed in 1908, he advocated this new style, which has had great influence in the way Bach's music is being treated. Albert Schweitzer was also a famous organ constructor. Recordings of Schweitzer playing the music of Bach are available on CDs.

Schweitzer's worldview was based on his idea of Reverence for Life, which he believed to be his greatest single contribution to humankind. His view was that Western civilization was in decay because of gradually abandoning its ethical foundations - those of affirmation of life.
It was his firm conviction that the respect for life is the highest principle. In a similar kind of exaltation of life to that of Friedrich Nietzsche, a recently influential philosopher of the time, Schweitzer admittedly followed the same line as that of the Russian Leo Tolstoy. Some people in his days compared his philosophy with that of Francis of Assisi, a comparison he did not object to. In his Philosophy of Civilisation [all quotes in this section from Chapter 26 of the same book], he wrote: True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness: 'I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live'. Life and love in his view are based on, and follow out of the same principle: respect for every manifestation of Life, and a personal, spiritual relationship towards the universe.
Ethics, according to Schweitzer, consists in the compulsion to show to the will-to-live of each and every being same reverence as one does to one's own. The circumstance that we apparently fail in satisfying this compulsion is not to lead to defeatism, since the will-to-live renews itself again and again, as an outcome of an evolutionary necessity and a phenomenon with a spiritual dimension.
However, as Schweitzer himself pointed out, it is neither impossible nor difficult to spend a life of not following it: the history of world philosophies and religions clearly shows many instances of denial of the Will to live. He points out to the prevailing philosophy in the European middle ages, and the Indian Brahminic philosophy. Nevertheless, this kind of attitude lacks in genuiness.
Since we enter the world, it offers us a horrible drama: it consists in the fact that the Will to live, looked as a sum of all the individual wills, is divided against itself. One existence is antagonised against another, one destroys another. Only in the thinking being has the Will to live become conscious of other Will to live, and desirious of solidarity with it. This solidarity, however, cannot be brought about, because human is not escaping the puzzling and horrible circumstance that he must live at the cost of other life. But as an ethical being he strives to escape whenever possible from this necessity, and to put a stop to this disunion of the Will to live, so far as it is within his/her powers.
Schweitzer advocated the concept of Reverence for life widely throughout his entire life. The historical Enlightenment waned and corrupted itself, Schweitzer held, because it has not been enough grounded in thought, but compulsively followed the ethical will-to live. Hence, he looked forward to a renewed and more profound Rennaisance and Enlightenment of humanity [a view he expressed in the Epilogue of his Out of My Life and Thought]. nourished hopes in a humankind that is more profoundly aware of its position in the Universe. His optimism was based, in "belief in truth". "The spirit generated by [conceiving of] truth is greater than the force of circumstances." He persistently emphasized the necessity to think, rather than merely act on basis of passing spurs or by following the widespread opinions. "Never for a moment do we lay aside our mistrust of the ideals established by society, and of the convictions which are kept by it in circulation. We always know that society is full of folly and will deceive us in the matter of humanity. [...] humanity meaning consideration for the existence and the happiness of individual human beings."
Respect for life, resulting from one's own conscious will to live, leads the person live in service of other people and every living creature.
Schweitzer was very much respected for putting his theory in practice himself.

spent most of his life in Lambaréné in what is now Gabon, Africa. After his medical studies in 1913, he went there with his wife to establish a hospital near an already existing mission post. He treated and operated on literally thousands of people. He took care of hundreds of lepers and treated many victims of the African sleeping sickness.
In 1914 World War I began and because he was a German on French territory, Schweitzer and his wife were taken captive and temporarily confined to their house. In 1917 they were interned in Garaison, France, and in 1918 in Saint Remy de Provence. There he studied and wrote as much as possible in preparation for among others his famous book Culture and Ethics (published in 1923). In July 1918 he was a free man again, and while working as a medical assistant and assistant-pastor in Strasbourg, he was able to finish the book. In the meantime he began to speak and lecture about his ideas wherever he was invited. Not only did he want his philosophy on culture and ethics to become widely known, it also served as a means to raise money for the hospital in Lambaréné, for which he had already emptied his own pockets.
In 1924 he returned to Lambaréné, where he managed to rebuild the decayed hospital, after which he resumed his medical practices. Soon he was no longer the only medical doctor in the hospital, and whenever possible he went to Europe to lecture at universities. Gradually his opinions and concepts became acknowledged, not only in Europe, but worldwide.

Later life
From 1939-1948 he stayed in Lambaréné, unable to go back to a Europe in war. Three years after the end of World War II, in 1948, he returned for the first time to Europe and kept travelling back and forth (and once to the USA) as long as he could until his death in 1965.
From 1952 until his death he fought together with Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell against nuclear tests and bombs. In 1957 and 1958 he held four speeches over Radio Oslo which were published in Peace or Atomic War.
He died in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon).


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