German theologian, musician, and medical missionary. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 and became an honorary member of the OM in 1955.
Born in Alsace, the son of a pastor, Schweitzer studied theology and philosophy at the universities of Strasbourg, Paris, and Berlin and quickly made his reputation as an original and powerful theologian. In his best-known work, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (1906; translated as The Quest for the Historical Jesus, 1910), he emphasized the need to understand the thought of Jesus within the context of the Jewish thought of his day. Schweitzer, who had studied the organ under Charles Widor (1844–1937) in Paris, was at the same time working on his Bach, le musicien-poète (1905), an equally impressive study.
But Schweitzer's theological and musical careers were coming to an end: in 1896 he had decided that he would devote only his first thirty years to scholarship and music. Thereafter his life would be spent in service to humanity. He consequently began to study medicine, and after qualifying in 1913 Schweitzer and his wife (who trained as a nurse) left for Lambaréné, a missionary station on the Ogowe River in what is now Gabon. Apart from periodic visits to Europe to raise funds and give organ recitals, Schweitzer remained at Lambaréné for the rest of his life, demonstrating by example, in the phrase he made famous, his ‘reverence for life’. Schweitzer did, however, continue writing, and such works as On the Edge of the Primeval Forest (1922) brought his own position and views before a wide public. He became in fact one of the most famous figures in the world and Lambaréné the best-known hospital in Africa.