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James Carleton Paget


Aspects of Albert Schweitzer’s Piety

In his Gifford Lecture of November 5th, 1934, in Edinburgh, Albert Schweitzer, after noting that the churches were failing at the time he was writing to exert any moral power over the mass of people, stated: »Ich spreche als einer, der sich als im Dienste der christlichen Kirche stehend fühlt und ihr in tiefer Verehrung und Liebe ergeben ist.«1

At one level this is an uncontroversial statement. Schweitzer had been an ordained minister of the Lutheran church since 1900 and before his departure to Africa in 1913, he had served as Vikar of the St. Nicolai church in central Strasbourg, where he preached regularly, held confirmation classes and presided at funerals and marriages. These duties were performed at a time of intense activity for Schweitzer as writer, teacher, musician and trainee doctor but he felt a strong need to fulfill them.2 During this time, from 1903 to 1906, he was the Principal of the Thomasstift in Strasbourg, looking after the spiritual wellbeing and education of ordinands to the Lutheran church.3 Although when he departed to Africa under the auspices of the Paris Missionary Society in 1913, he had made an undertaking that he would not preach (the Society, which was religiously conservative in character had asked him not to do so out of a concern for his opinions), very soon he was preaching and continued to do so for many years.4 Although Schweitzer never fully embraced the description of himself as a theologian5 and became famous for a concept, Reverence for Life, which could be construed as a universal principle, ostensibly unconnected to Christian theology, arguably his most significant writings were works on Jesus and Paul, and it is striking that one of his last writing projects was a work on the Kingdom of God, to which he attributed considerable importance.6 While Schweitzer wrote extensively on other religions, especially those of India and China, he held to the view that the Christian religion was superior to these.7 His life as a medical missionary was understood as primarily humanitarian, but it was also a Christian task, embodying a commitment to the figure of Jesus.8 Although his move to Africa changed the focus of his life, he continued to engage with the wider Christian church, both as a writer of theological books, a lecturer, and as a defender of liberal Christianity in an era when its presuppositions were under attack.9

Yet some, notably Helmut Groos, have wondered about the degree to which one can call Schweitzer a Christian.10 In advancing this case emphasis has been placed upon the degree to which Schweitzer held to core doctrines of the Christian church, such as the atonement or the resurrection, whether in fact he has a properly developed Christology, or a Christology at all, whether at best his view of God is pantheist, and his general conception of the Christian faith is immanentist and this-worldly, discounting a heavenly reality, which transcends the material world. Such critics have questioned the extent to which Schweitzer’s philosophical views have any real connection with his theology. Reverence for life, it is argued, can be seen as not irreducibly Christian. In such a view Schweitzer’s retention of the outward trappings of Christian practice is viewed as sentimental attachment to something that has cultural traction but little else. 11

Such a debate can become arid, not least because it calls for a definition of the term »Christian«, which is difficult to arrive at. Erich Grässer, responding to Groos, distinguishes between what he terms an answer that is »vordergründig« and one that is »hintergründig«. In relation to the former Schweitzer is clearly a Christian »(d)enn als getauftes Glied der Evangelischen Kirche und später als ihr Prediger hat er zeitlebens diesem Christentum die Treue gehalten.« 12 From the latter perspective, Grässer concedes that there are difficulties with Schweitzer’s theology. However, he still answers the question in the affirmative, first on the basis of a negative observation about ever knowing the true character of a person’s faith, and then by raising the question of the appropriate means by which to measure a person’s Christianity. In Schweitzer’s case it should be measured simply by the extent to which Schweitzer is a »Nachfolger Christi«. By that standard Schweitzer is a Christian. To some that might miss the point, and Grässer’s mention of the yardstick of doctrine and related matters but failure to engage with these, might confirm that point. But a judgment on this matter that is »hintergründig« will depend upon views about what constitutes the non-negotiables of Christian identity upon which there will rarely be agreement. 13

I do not wish to engage directly with this question. I have referred to it as a way into saying something about the nature of Schweitzer’s Christianity. In particular I shall focus on his conception of Christian piety, his attitude to and understanding of the Bible and Christian dogma. I shall also pay close attention to his view of Jesus, exploring the nature of his Christological beliefs. I shall indicate that though there is much evidence in Schweitzer’s extant works that he saw himself as an outsider (his heroes were mainly theological outsiders, such as David Friedrich Strauss), that sense of being an outsider 14 was often, though not always, bound up with a view of himself as a »freigesinnter Christ«, a liberal Christian, whose views emerged from that essentially Protestant tradition. True, he is portrayed as a critic of liberal theology, not least where he attacks the »modernizing« tendencies of liberal biblical critics, or the too societal-affirming character of »Kulturprotestantismus«. And yet he regularly affirmed his allegiance to that tradition throughout his life. Brought up in a liberal-theological household, educated by liberal theologians like Heinz Julius Holtzmann, Schweitzer’s in­stincts bore the imprint of such a background all his life.15

I Early Life

Schweitzer’s autobiographical work, Aus meiner Kindheit und Ju­gendzeit, gives muffled voice to what one might term the religious development of its subject.16 Schweitzer mentions his early rationalistic view of the Gospels relaying a tale of how he questioned the poverty of the holy family, given the valuable gifts of the wise men.17 But it is a sense of an evolving, if emotionally expressed piety, which emerges. He writes warmly of the services he attended in the church of which his father was pastor, stating that from them he took with him into life a feeling of the solemn (das Feierliche) and the need for stillness and spiritual concentration (Sammlung).18 This sense of emotional attachment to the religious comes out also in Schweitzer’s warm response to the decorations on the altar of the catholic chancel, present in Schweitzer’s father’s parish church in the Alsatian village of Günsbach (as a so-called simultaneum, it acted as a place of worship for both Catholics and Protestants). Two statues standing above the altar were suffused by the light coming through the window of the church, causing Schweitzer to speak of how this sight allowed his thoughts to be moved from the finite to the infinite, which in turn lead him to comment negatively upon the plainness of Protestant church architecture where too much emphasis is placed upon the sermon as the central factor of the service, and too little upon devotion (Andacht). 19 He also highlights the significance of the experience of being confirmed: »When our group entered the church from the vestry on Palm Sunday, Eugen Munch was playing Handel’s ›Lift up your heads, Ye gates‹ from Handel’s Messiah. It was in wonderful harmony with the thoughts in my heart«,20 though these thoughts are not described.

Schweitzer ends the narrative aspect of Kindheit with his successful passing of his final exams at the Mulhouse Gymnasium, omitting his decision to go to the University of Strasbourg to study theology and philosophy (the telos of his narrative is not a religious theme but a series of moral and human reflections). The decision is explicitly mentioned in his autobiography of 1930, Aus meinem Leben und Denken, but what led to that decision and the one to become a cleric are never discussed – both appear natural ones, involving no Schweitzerian dramatization, as we find with other significant moments in his life,21 or any spiritual agonizing.22 Moreover, neither of these narratives hints at the presence of some guiding hand. As Ernst Rolffs, a Lutheran pastor, writing in a clerical publication in 1932, observed: »Er (Schweitzer) gestaltet selbständig sein Leben nach seinem ethischen Ideal und zeichnet seinen Weg vor; um ihn zu finden scheint er der Führung einer höheren Hand nicht zu bedürfen.«23

The restrained character of what can loosely be termed the religious aspect of Schweitzer’s retelling of his early life can be explained on a number of grounds. Some of these are ideological. Schweitzer’s understanding of religion was strongly ethical and so the account of the ethical development of a person is not something straightforwardly secular. His understanding of God, while not being pantheistic, was not straightforwardly personal. The extent to which Schweitzer’s God guides in the conventional sense of that word, or whose guidance can be discerned, is limited.24 More importantly, Schweitzer, in his response to Rolffs’ article stated that he was reticent about speaking about his religious feelings,25 and one could argue that this is true for his feelings more generally.26 There is a sense in his autobiographical works, especially Jugendzeit, of his joyful engagement with the religious aspect of his life, whether it be confirmation classes or the attendance of church services, but a reticence as to the nature of that joy.27

Such restraint seems more surprising when consideration is given to Schweitzer’s account of his attendance of his father’s services. In writing about such occasions, he emphasizes the importance of his father’s sermons and how when he had to go away to school in another town when he was eleven, it was these in particular that he missed. And yet he only refers minimally to their content.28 Some of these sermons were published in the Evangelisch-protestantischer Kirchenbote für Elsass-Lothringen and they are important for revealing something of the religious and theological background from which Schweitzer came. Just like Schweitzer’s maternal grandfather and uncle, Schweitzer’s father, Louis, was liberal-Protestant in origin. He had studied in Strasbourg University under the well-known liberal theologian Eduard Reuss, under whose guidance he had gained a doctorate. His sermons reflect that origin and in an admittedly less radical way reflect many of the emphases of his son, indicating why Schweitzer spoke so warmly of them. 29 They are strongly ethical in orientation, and centred on a vision of Christ that is less concerned with his supposed divine character, or his miraculous activity,30 and much more with his humanity,31 especially his suffering and death, with all the ethical implications this carries.32 Simple confession (»Bekennen«) is de­cried33 and ideas of redemption play a less important role in comparison with those associated with ethical action. Biblical scholarship is seen as making a positive contribution to the understanding of the Christian message and as consistent with the freedom, which constitutes the essential message of the Reformation and the Protestant tradition more generally.34 The emphases of these sermons – the elevation of the human Jesus, and a concentration on the ethical implications of his life, a corresponding reluctance to give uncritical expression to established Christian dogmas, preferring to elucidate their truths in relation to Christian experience (the one characteristic of these sermons Schweitzer mentions), and an en­dorsement of the values of critical scholarship as an aid to better religious understanding – were to find distinctive expression in Schweitzer’s articulation of his piety.

II Schweitzer’s religiosity: the Strasbourg years and beyond

Schweitzer’s study of theology and philosophy in his years as a student left open the possibility of pursuing a career in either. But he decided to become a theologian and to be ordained. The process began in 1898 and ended with his ordination and appointment to the parish of St. Nicolai in Strasbourg in the Autumn of 1900.35 He continued to minister to the flock of St. Nicolai, with two colleagues, for 13 years and then for another 6 years after his return from Africa. It is difficult to form a clear view of his conception of being a pastor, though he comments on the issue of the education of pastors in his public lecture entitled »Protestantismus und die theologische Wissenschaft«, delivered in 1903, highlighting the need for a greater balance between practical activity and scholarship. 36 The comment that »Nicht nur die theoretische, sondern auch die praktische Vernunft ist Erkenntnis« is a sentiment which would find expression elsewhere in Schweitzer’s work and life. Given that he was directly involved in the education of those enter­ing the priesthood, in his capacity as Principal of the Stift in Strasbourg from 1903–1906, no doubt he had extensive thoughts on the matter and involved himself in the lives of the students.37

Schweitzer took the ecclesiastical elements of his work as a pastor seriously. He emphasized the importance of divine service for the Christian. It was wrong, he asserted, to claim that going to church was something external (»etwas Äusserliches«).38 On the contrary it was vital to the Christian’s inner spiritual growth. Being in church provided the Christian with a moment of quiet reflec-tion, an opportunity to be away from the noise and disturbances of the outside world and to be in contact with others who were set upon a common enterprise.39 While some might go to church because they were driven by an inner need, in many cases going would make a person aware of that inner need, which had been lost because of their distance from the church.40 For Schweitzer, those who had been confirmed and had become indifferent to Chris-tianity, had done so because they had ceased to attend church. Custom might be scorned but it would nurture deeper realities if persisted with.41

Schweitzer described the service as »eine Andacht«, a time of worship or devotion, and he included within that not just what he termed »Sammlung«, something akin to inner peacefulness,42 which he also associated with the playing of Bach, but also prayer, though perhaps the two cannot be entirely separated from each other.43 In a number of his sermons, he described how he conceived of prayer. He expressed himself agnostic on how it was that God responded to prayer, even though he was confident that God did listen to our prayers.44 Prayer could not be a request for things – that was not its principal aim. Rather it was something which afforded the one praying the chance to realize their sinfulness and to pray that their lips become pure. It was an opportunity to express thankfulness,45 and also a means not only of expressing belief in God but experiencing the certainty that there is in fact a God.46 This is why we should attend to the words of Rom. 12.12 and utter the »Our Father« on a regular basis,47 though Schweitzer encouraged a movement towards personal prayer in one’s own words, a movement from outer to inner, as he put it.48 Prayer for Schweitzer, as an inner experience, was precisely for this reason important in a time of scepticism and unbelief, which he acutely felt the present time was.49

Preaching was central to his conception of being a pastor. It was, he claimed, an inner necessity to him;50 and something of indescribable joy.51 His letters to Helene, during his first period at St.Nicolai, both indicate the care he took in preparing his sermons and the amount of effort their preparation cost him in spite of the fact that this was a very busy period in Schweitzer’s life.52 While critical of a vision of the Protestant service as simply a sermon,53 it was an activity he took very seriously.

Schweitzer is clear about the aim of a sermon: »Die Predigt soll ein Nachdenken über das Wort Gottes in dem Hörer wecken und leiten. Die Predigt ist eine Melodie, die in einer andern Seele eine neue Melodie weckt, die nun selbständig erklingt. Was du für dich denkst bei der Predigt, was du in deinem Innern dir selbst predigest, das ist die Hauptsache.«54 Here the sense of the sermon as a set of words which elicit thoughts in the hearer, which themselves are influenced by the hearer’s experience comes to the fore, a thought Schweitzer makes clearer in the words that follow. Preaching, then, is not about teaching in the straightforward sense, but about stimulating thoughts in the mind of the hearer who is ready, through prayer, to receive them, and it is the hearer’s response that is most important. Hence the concern in these sermons with the listener’s experience and the attempt to show the relevance of the Gospel to their lives.55

The sermons are a good point from which to survey Schweitzer’s Christianity.56 That is not only because we hear Schweitzer operating within a specific Christian context but because they touch upon central themes in Schweitzer’s own writing on Christianity, which were to persist throughout his life, and so provide a way into his Christian piety conceived in relation to his complete oeuvre. As Grässer noted, disputing a point made by Groos, there was little division between Schweitzer’s thinking as a sermon writer and his thought as presented in his more scholarly works.57 In what follows I shall take up themes in the sermons relating to scripture, Chris-tian tradition, and especially Jesus, and show what these reveal about his Christian presuppositions. The discussion is not an exhaustive account of Schweitzer’s »piety« but highlights important aspects of that.

1. Scripture

Schweitzer’s sermons nearly all take as their starting point a passage from scripture, almost always a passage from the New Testament. Schweitzer was evidently keen that his congregation take the business of reading the Bible seriously, especially the Gospels. There was, he claimed, too little reading of the scriptural text. »Wir haben den Schatz nicht genug geschätzt? Sind der Stunden nicht allzu wenig, in denen, ihr euch sammeltet und wieder laset und euch ergreifen liesset von der Schlichtheit und Tiefe der Wahrheit, die im Neuen Testament liegt?« 58 He made his confirmation students spend a part of their class learning biblical quotations off by heart and used to read out biblical quotations to his congregation at the end of services.59 Schweitzer was keen, too, not just in his sermons, but in other more popular media to write about its contents and history.60 His sermons are not, however, expositions in a traditional sense, that is, close textual engagements and they do not betray a sense of intertextuality, that is, an attempt to expand one text’s meaning by relating it to another – the sense of scripture as a unity is rarely present. The text itself is a stimulus for personal and ethical reflection, centering upon the figure of Jesus, and showing its relevance to the lives of his congregation.61 After all, the New Testament is where one will learn about Jesus and, with the right attitude, inwardly absorb his words.62

The Bible qua New Testament, then, is a text to which authority is attached – it is the place where we gain contact with Jesus, in particular through his words;63 but the failure to make its detailed exposition the subject of the sermon indicates that it is not authoritative in a more traditional sense. Schweitzer is clear, both in his sermons, and elsewhere, that the New Testament, and in particular the Gospels, come from a different time, that they give voice to an era very different from the one we inhabit. This is famously the case with Jesus’ eschatological opinions, which are so central to Schweitzer’s own understanding of Jesus’ ministry, but according to him, can no longer be understood in the form Jesus perceived them.64 Moreover, as products of history, these texts have to be judged critically, not only because this is a task which truthfulness demands65 but also such critical study will bring benefits – and here Schweitzer compares such work to the ploughing of a field, which rids it of the weeds of superstition, prejudice and pettiness66 – not least of which will be a greater sense of the human character of Jesus. But such study will also raise questions and Schweitzer’s sermons and other writings are full of explicit doubts about, among other things, the Christmas story,67 Jesus’ miracles,68 the resurrection69 and ascension.70 Historical study, then, undercuts traditional understandings of the text, sometimes with benefits, but often with difficult consequences, revealing both the Bible’s fallibility but also its cultural distance from our present world. But critical engagement with it is an unavoidable deed of truthfulness.71

That does not mean that the text is dismissed – Schweitzer sees critical engagement with the text as having as a prerequisite a sense of piety, otherwise the activity becomes little more than vanity72 – but it has to be reinterpreted often by relating it to the personal experience of the individual, a trope, as we have indicated typical of liberal sermonizing, and one might add, liberal New Testament scholarship.73 Scripture, understood primarily as the synoptic Gospels and parts of Paul, remains central to the explication of the Christian message, but in a different form. In the conclusion to Die Mystik des Apostels Paulus, Schweitzer voices the two sides of this vision, both his classically Protestant sense of the formative character of what scripture witnesses to but also the need to transform that witness. »Die Erneuerung des Christentums, die kommen muss, ist die Rückkehr zur Unmittelbarkeit und zur Intensität des Glaubens des Urchristentums. Wohl ist eine Restauration des ur­christlichen Glaubens als solches unmöglich, weil er sich in zeitlich bedingten Anschauungen ausdrückt, zu denen wir nicht mehr zurückkehren können. Aber das geistige Wesen desselben können wir zu dem unsrigen machen.« 74

2. Christian Tradition

This attitude to scripture is reflected in Schweitzer’s response to Christian dogmas.75 In numbers of his sermons but elsewhere, too, he castigates »dogmengebundenes Christentum«. He accuses it of having taken Christ captive, of concealing Christ’s simple, living humanity,76 of failing to take account of the fact that Christianity is a religion of the spirit, adapting through history,77 and of short-circuiting the need for thought in the exposition of the Christian faith, an essential element of a »freigesinntes Christentum«.78 Dogmas are also problematic because they strive to give voice to what cannot be expressed in formulas.79 True, Schweitzer can speak of what he terms »Ehrfurcht vor der Überlieferung«, which is conceived in terms of a constructive tension between tradition and thought: »Zu lebendiger Religion und zu lebendiger Kirche gehört beides zusammen: religiöse Überlieferung und Denken, beide in steter Spannung miteinander.«80 Christianity needed to create dogmas and traditions and these give shape to a community and so need to be respected,81 but without thought they cannot be truly »lebendig«. The emphasis in Schweitzer’s works tends always to be on thought, on going beyond the particularities of a tradition, of emphasizing its temporal character and adopting an interpretation deemed lively (lebendig), understood often as ethical and relating to the experience of the individual.82 The sense of tension, referred to above, is barely reflected in a kind of agonizing about the limits within which a tradition can be interpreted. So in his exposition of the atonement, found in a number of sermons, Schweitzer boldly demonstrates its redundancy as an idea, even in the preaching of Jesus, and proceeds to reinterpret it in a variety of ways, including as a way of indicating how we are no longer weighed down by life’s difficulties but free to work actively upon the world. 83 Here the sense of the redemptive value of the doctrine disappears in favour of a strongly experiential and ethical understanding. Unsurprisingly, then, Schweitzer rarely expresses himself in the language of the creeds, and has little to say about the confessional documents of the Protestant church. And his theology, not unsurprisingly, lacks any strongly sacramental dimension.84

3. Jesus

And yet this critical attitude towards the church’s traditions, whether found in scripture or dogma, cannot conceal the intensity of Schweitzer’s attachment to Jesus, found in his sermons, and elsewhere, too. As Rössler has noted, if there is a dogma in Schweitzer’s theological worldview it is the central importance of Jesus, mediated through the spirit.85 How that importance is understood, how Schweitzer sees it as appropriated is something which goes to the heart of his piety.

There is in Albert Schweitzer’s writing about Jesus a personalism and a sense of possession, which is marked. His plea to his congregation in St. Nicolai to live in »Gemeinschaft« with Christ is persistent and reflects his own experience of being in the grip of the master.86 Indeed the sense of possession is captured in the words Schweitzer uses to describe Jesus, words like »Herrscher«87 and »Heiland«.88 His account of his decision to go to Africa talks of him reading the arresting, christologically-oriented language of the Paris Missionary Society’s request for missionaries and being gripped by it;89 and the fact that, before his departure to Africa, he possessed a medal with Jesus’s face on it, demonstrates the place of Jesus in his consciousness.90 His decision to publish his book on Paul relatively late in his life and without reference to any future as an academic theologian, carries christological significance. Paul is the prophet of Christ mysticism;91 and in the book’s conclusion it is not the Christ mysticism itself which is rendered redundant but Paul’s eschatology out of which the Christ mysticism emerged.92

Reference to Mystik, shows that Schweitzer conceives of Jesus in a relational sense. What Schweitzer terms the eternal (das Ewige) in Jesus can be described, and is by Schweitzer in terms of a longing for the Kingdom of God,93 understood in a specifically ethical way, sometimes presented in heavily philosophical categories;94 but it is only truly conceivable by those who are in communion with him,95 joined by a mutual wanting,96 which finds its strongest expression in »Leidensgemeinschaft«, a suffering, which is itself elevating.97 This need to connect with Jesus, to be in his »Gemeinschaft«, is a dominant theme of his sermons.98 But it presents Schweitzer’s reader with real difficulty because of the problem of the precise nature of not only how but also with what one connects. At the end of the first edition of the Quest it appears to be the words of Jesus, once the redundancy of his historically-conditioned eschatological view have been dispensed with; but also in this conclusion and elsewhere it is the spirit. And at the end of the second edition of The Quest, it is his will, here conceived, along with Schopenhauer, as the unchanging part of a person, which has the capacity to transcend the particularity of its setting. It is this union between will and will, brought about by a mutual willing for the kingdom, which Schweitzer presents as Jesus mysticism.99 Schweitzer is struggling to articulate a view of union with Christ against a backcloth of hermeneutical problems, which emerge from his strong sense of Jesus’ particular attachment to his own time and the hermeneutical difficulty of such an alien figure having any relevance at all.100 This issue is not problematized to the same degree in his sermons where »Gemeinschaft« with Christ is stated as a straightforward possibility, but both there and in the conclusion to the second edition of the Quest, there is something unsystematic, almost emotive in what we read.

Is there a Christology which emerges from this? Schweitzer eschews questions of Jesus’ divinity101 and insofar as he discusses words which would touch on that matter, words like incarnation (»Menschwerdung«) or Son of Man,102 this is to describe the human character of Jesus in elevated tones, that is in terms of Jesus as the embodiment of the purest capacity of humans to reflect God’s spirit; or to talk about Christians and their own divinity and he was clear that to accord Jesus such reverence, was to do a considerable thing.103 In this context we need to note the complexities of Schweitzer’s own view of God, which have left some commentators befuddled. Fundamental here is the priority of experience as a means to understanding God, for Schweitzer shows no interest in divine ontology. This experience is marked by a bi-polarity – the experience of God outside us in the world, where he is a mystery stands in sharp contrast to the experience we have of him within us where he manifests himself as a will to love.104 The complexities of this cannot be explored here but the question is raised as to whether Jesus somehow embodies that will of love. For some there is no identification between the two in Schweitzer and Jesus seems more like the perfect embodiment of an example of the man in tune with the God who is will to love.105

It is also the case that Jesus is a man of his times, whose eschatological conception of the world is no longer acceptable to a modern person. This makes him, in his historical form, an alien and a stranger to our times – certainly not a manifestation of the all-knowing God who is never mistaken. Schweitzer’s appeal to the will is, as noted, an appeal to that part of Jesus, which he thinks remains unaffected by his setting and which embodies the ethical absolutism, itself the result of his eschatological world view, which enables him to produce an ethical vision which perceives human self-fulfilment in terms of absolute devotion to the other. And even this vision is »unvollständig«, needing to be extended in various directions. 106

Is Schweitzer’s Jesus in some sense a revealer and Jesus’ advent a moment of revelation? Some have argued that the final words of Die Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung imply as much,107 and this is supported by statements in Schweitzer’s oeuvre in which Jesus’ appearance is described in striking terms.108 But Schweitzer, the friend of the Enlightenment, generally eschews the language of revelation or redefines it. As he notes in a sermon: »Wir haben keine gekünstelte und unvollziehbare Vorstellung von der Offenbarung, weil wir fühlen, dass sie aus der Tiefe des elementaren Denkens und Empfindens emporsteigt […].«109 Revelation comes from within a person for it is within a person that a perception of Godarises as will to love. Moreover, there is a sense in which Jesus’ ethical viewpoint is being judged by external criteria, a point seen in Schweizer’s description of them as »unvollständig.«110 For Schweitzer Jesus may embody the clearest manifestation of ethical engagement that there has been, but he does so in a way that is compatible with thought, and so within the realms of human conceptualization: »Aber es ist nicht so, dass wir die Idee der sittlichen Weltvollendung und dessen, was wir in unserer Zeit müssen, besitzen, weil wir sie durch historische Offenbarung von ihm bezogen haben. Sie liegt in uns und ist mit dem sittlichen Willen gegeben.«111 Here we see the limits of Schweitzer’s Enlightenment viewpoint, which compromises the revelatory necessity of Jesus in spite of the way he is described.

This sense of a Jesus, whose revelatory (and redemptive) power is limited is further confirmed in the fact that Schweitzer’s philosophical work, though freighted with the language of religion,112 and ending in an ethical mysticism, which posits union with infinite being as its endpoint (rather than a Jesusmystik leading to a perception of God as will to love), is not the climactic moment of a Chris­tocentric endeavor. Rather it appears to be the result of a thought process which leads to a necessary truth, which Schweitzer named reverence for life. In nuce this posited that recognition of the fact that we were essentially wills to live in the midst of wills to live would lead necessarily to an attitude of mind which affirmed the need, absolutely, to affirm all life, to advance and forward it and not to destroy it.113 Put in Schweitzer’s own philosophical language, such a view combined the two prerequisites of an ethical system, that it should be related directly to man’s inward need for self-perfection and his capacity for devotion to others (In Jesus’ terms, to gain one’s life is to lose it), the qualities which Jesus’ own ethic contained, pace Schweitzer.114

Schweitzer’s assertion is not self-evidently true. Nietzsche was his friend insofar as he asserted the convergence of ethics and self-fulfilment but his enemy in that he saw that self-fulfilment in the will to power. For all the positive consequences of Schweitzer’s vision qua ethics, it is not the case that his assumption about humans as wills to live amidst wills to live leads of necessity to the attitude of reverence for life.

But it might do if there is a transformative intervention, described by Schweitzer as a will to love, which, on reading his work on Paul turns out to be Christ.115 As Henry Clark noted »Reverence for Life is … valid only upon the presupposition that something will intervene between one’s own and other wills-to-live, and also between one’s own empirical self and one’s understanding of essential selfhood. Jesus as the Christ manifests will-to-love raised to the highest peak of intensity and this revelation enables the existing self to redefine both its self-image and its essential self-understanding.«116 Schweitzer’s philosophical work, then, conceals a Christological assumption, or if it does not conceal it deliberately, it requires it.117

But what kind of a Christology is this? Clark suggests something like an exemplary Christology,118 though Schweitzer denies on occasion that Jesus is an example, preferring to describe him as a force (Kraft).119 And there are ways of reading such an intervention as non-soteriological, bound up with an idea of Jesus as the greatest manifestation of ethical mysticism and with Schweitzer’s own views of the capacity of one person to affect another.120 Schweitzer could write to Rolffs that the conclusion to the Ge­schichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung is the key to his philosophy, summarizing it as »Jesus der Herr«, but then goes on to talk about the relationship of religion to thought. For Schweitzer, with his commitment both to thought but also to Jesus, there was a sense in which both had to converge. As he wrote to Martin Werner on 12th October, 1923: »Die tiefsten Überzeugungen des Christentums sind denknotwendig. Aber weil ich zu dieser Gewissheit durchgedrungen bin, rede ich so kalt und nüchtern wie möglich, um nicht mit den gewöhnlichen Apologeten des Christentums, […] verwechselt zu werden.«121 Schweitzer may not have wanted his work to be construed as Christian apologetic, and it was rarely that, but the question of the relationship between thought and Christological assumption remains a complicated one.

III Conclusion

Reconstructing Albert Schweitzer’s Christian convictions is a complex task. He once described himself as not being a hero of Christian belief,122 and also stated that he was reluctant to give voice to his religious convictions, though he affirmed their importance. His autobiographical works do not give conventional voice to a view of himself as guided by God or, in a straightforward way by Jesus, and he barely touches upon the reason for his decision to become a theologian and minister. Religion is there but its personal evolution is not explored.

Schweitzer’s piety expresses itself in strongly ethical terms. In his Gifford Lectures of 1932, he distinguished between two types of piety, one was determined by the thought of an ethical »Einswerden« with God, the other by the idea of redemption. The former determined by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and the latter by a Greek-oriental desire for redemption from this world, which marked the atmosphere of the later Roman Empire.123 His scepticism towards the latter is apparent in many parts of his surviving writings. While the development of Christian doctrines is treated as something necessary, they are often seen as external, and historically determined, whose truth has to be extracted in an act of ethically-oriented reinterpretation, a view which also resonates with his view of the Bible.

That said, Schweitzer remained a Lutheran pastor all his life, preferring, as he put it, to remain within the symbols of historical religions than go it alone.124 In spite of a strong interest in other faiths, he retained a sense of Christianity’s superiority. There was much to criticize in the Christian church but it had the potential for positive engagement with the world, and he regretted a growing indifference to it. Consistent with this, Schweitzer encouraged the attendance of church, as a means of inner renewal. The giving of sermons and of confirmation classes were a significant factor in his early life, and he was clear about the need for Christian theologians to educate the public about Christianity, speaking to his congregation at St. Nicolai in ways, which reflected his broader theological assumptions. Above all he was committed to a form of Jesus piety; and the extravagance of some of his utterances about Jesus evidence an almost evangelical Christocentric fervor. The reality is less simple, made more so by Schweitzer’s failure to write a systematic theology, a New Testament theology, 125 or something similar, or to express himself in language that reflected Christian tradition. The modulations in his work between, on the one hand, a commitment to Jesus, a sense of Jesus’ overwhelming capacity to capture and to transform the individual, his sense that Jesus embodies a basic truth about being human and relating, mystically, to »infinite being«, and his sense, on the other, that truth is inherent within us and apprehendable through thought, make systematizing his theology difficult, and more so because there is little attempt to join up theological and philosophical works, in contrast to a Christian theologian like Rudolf Bultmann or Paul Tillich.

Much of the above exemplifies emphases and tensions typical of liberal Protestant Christianity with which Schweitzer identified. He came from a liberal theological background, was educated by liberal theologians, such as Heinrich Holtzmann, inspired some liberal theologians, not least Paul Tillich, and became the poster boy of some in the period of strong Barthian influence. Schweitzer was known as a brutal critic of facets of that movement, not least its tendency to modernize the teaching of Jesus, and so to present a diminished ethical vision of the latter, though he softened his antiliberal rhetoric as he came to believe that it was under attack from the forces of neo-orthodoxy, embodied in Karl Barth. 126 But his espousal of the view of the convergence of thought and religion, his critical attitudes towards the traditions of the church, his strong commitment to Jesus, his emphasis on experience in the articulation of religious truths, his concern with culture and not just the church, and his ethically-oriented understanding of religion, were classic facets of that diverse movement,127 although he held these views in a distinct way and there was in Schweitzer’s theology an edginess. He could write to his wife when a young man that he was a heretic, and he wished that the heaven he entered was peopled by appropriately heretical types, giving voice to a sense of his difference.128 In the end he possessed a kind of instinctive piety, centred upon Jesus as the embodiment of the »Menschensohn«, who gave clearest expression to the capacity for an inwardness that connected with the divine, and manifested itself in work for the kingdom, work which arose from a denial of the world in order better to work upon it.129 That figure did not probably rise from the dead, atone for our sins or ascend into heaven but association with him was transformative and transfiguring, a point Schweitzer could not dispel even from his philosophical thinking. That makes his commitment to Christianity, however distinctive, more than »ein emotional be­dingtes Nachklingen.«130


Das Wesen von Albert Schweitzers Christsein ist Thema von Diskussionen zwischen denen, die es lediglich als die sentimentale Außenseite einer Immanenzphilosophie verstehen, und denen, die ihm eine zentralere Rolle zuschreiben. Vor diesem Hintergrund betrachtet der Aufsatz erneut Schweitzers Frömmigkeit. Während Schweitzer zugab, bei diesem Thema zurückhaltend zu sein, betonte er trotzdem stets die Bedeutung, die Religion in seinem Leben hatte. Zwar wurde nie recht klar, was ihn bewog, Pfarrer der lutherischen Kirche zu werden, aber er nahm jedenfalls seine Pflichten ernst, vor allem die als Prediger.

Dieser Aufsatz nimmt seine Predigten als Ausgangspunkt, um Schweitzers Einstellung zu Kirche, Gebeten, Bibel und vor allem zu Jesus zu untersuchen. Seine Beschäftigung mit Jesus ist auffallend intensiv. Doch es ist schwierig, seine Ansichten als klassisch christologisch zu bezeichnen, obwohl sie über ein rein exemplarisches Verständnis von Christus hinauszugehen scheinen.

Auf diese und andere Weise offenbart Schweitzer unverwechselbar sowohl eine christliche Hingabe, die in seine eher weltlich klingende Philosophie eingeflossen sein mag, als auch einige der Spannungen, die der liberal-theologischen Tradition innewohnen, die er begrüßte und an der er sein ganzes Leben treu festhielt.


1) Text in Albert Schweitzer, Vorträge, Vorlesungen, Aufsätze, Claus Günzler, Ulrich Luz and Johannes Zürcher (eds.), München 2003, 120.
2) For a vivid portrayal of the activities of Schweitzer in this period see the correspondence between him and his wife, first published as: Albert Schweitzer and Helene Bresslau: Die Jahre vor Lambarene. Briefe 1902–1912, Rhena Schweitzer Miller and G. Woytt (eds.), München 1992.
3) For this period in Schweitzer’s life see Matthieu Arnold, Albert Schweitzer. Les années alsaciennes, Strasbourg 2013.
4) For the most complete collection of sermons delivered while he was a Vikar in Strasbourg between 1898 and 1913, and then from 1918, onwards see Albert Schweitzer, Predigten 1898–1948, Richard Brüllmann and Erich Grässer (eds.), München 2001. For his African sermons see Albert Schweitzer, Les sermons de Lambaréné, Strasbourg 2002.
5) See his letter to Gustav von Lüpke, dated June 10th 1908, and reprinted in Werner Zager, Albert Schweitzer als liberaler Theologe, Münster 2009, 134, asserting that he is not a theologian but a philosopher. For a helpful collection of texts relating to Schweitzer’s view of himself as a theologian see Werner Zager and Dorothea Zager, Impulse für ein wahrhaftiges Christentum, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1997, 5–16.
6) Albert Schweitzer, Reich Gottes und Christentum, Ulrich Luz, Ulrich Neunschwander and Johannes Zürcher (eds.), München 1995, 200, where he describes the work as his final theological testament.
7) See especially Christianity and the Religions of the World, ET New York 1923.
8) See On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, ET New York 1948, 1, mentioning the parable of Dives and Lazarus. For the complex background to Schweitzer’s decision to go to Africa, see Nils Ole Oermann, Albert Schweitzer. Eine Biographie, München 2009, 83–96.
9) See Andreas Rössler, Albert Schweitzer und das freie Christentum, in W. Zager (ed.), Albert Schweitzer und das freie Christentum, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2005, 7–13.
10) H. Groos, Albert Schweitzer. Größe und Grenzen, München 1974.
11) See Groos, Schweitzer, 491, who describes his connection to Christianity as »ein emotional bedingtes Nachklingen«.
12) Erich Grässer, Albert Schweitzer als Theologe, Tübingen 1979, 8.
13) For a recent discussion of the same subject, see Rössler, Schweitzer, 4–5.
14) See letter dated 1.v.1904 (Schweitzer/Bresslau, Jahre, 68), in which he calls himself a heretic (Ketzer).
15) On Schweitzer’s theological liberalism see especially Rössler, Schweitzer, 1–34.
16) On these early years and religion see Arnold, Schweitzer, 29–30. Correctly he notes the importance of Schweitzer’s piety but fails to note the lack of interest in describing that piety or noting its development.
17) Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit, in: R. Grabs (ed.), Ausgewählte Werke in fünf Bänden, Bd. 1, Berlin 1973, 265.
18) Kindheit, 288.
19) Ibid., 289-90.
20) Ibid., 288.
21) See his description of the moment when he came to the view that Jesus’ ministry was eschatological in orientation; his decision to be a missionary in Africa; and the »discovery« of the idea of »reverence for life« (see Albert Schweitzer, Aus meinem Leben und Denken, in: Grabs, Ausgewählte Werke in fünf Bänden Bd. 1, 29.101 f. and 167 f. respectively).
22) Grässer, Schweitzer, 26. In a lecture given in February 1912, in a series entitled, »Die Ergebnisse der historisch-kritischen Theologie und der Naturwissenschaft für die Wertung der Religion« (text in Albert Schweitzer, Strassburger Vorlesungen, Erich Grässer and Johannes Zürcher [eds.], 722), Schweitzer refers to »merkwürdige Gedanken, die mich bewogen, mich in den Dienst der Kirche zu stellen«, which hints at greater wrestling with the issue.
23) E. Rolffs, Albert Schweitzer als ethisches Phänomenon und theologisches Problem, DtPfrBl 35 (1931), 243.
24) Groos, ibid., makes this point. On Schweitzer’s God, see below. Schweitzer refers to God as a guide, though in guarded terms, in a letter to Helene, dated 21.xii.1904 (Schweitzer/Bresslau, Jahre, 78).
25) For his response to Rolffs, originally published in the Evangelisch-protes­tantischer Kirchenbote für Elsass und Lothringen 61.2 (10.1.1932), see Zager, Theologe, 340 f.
26) While not directly relevant to what is written above, we should note how our understanding of Schweitzer’s psychological state has been illuminated by the publication of the letters between himself and his wife between 1898 and 1913 (see n. 2 above). The perfervid character of that period, with its complex emo-tional shifts, are not reflected in Schweitzer’s account of the same period in Leben.
27) It is interesting that Schweitzer makes almost no reference to the role of Jesus in his early life in spite of telling Rolffs that »Jesus hat mich einfach gefangen genommen«, possibly confirmed by the inscription in his confirmation Bible of the highly christocentric statement of Col. 2.6–7.
28) Kindheit, 288.
29) The sermons run from January 1888 to October 1896. Although they are not from Schweitzer’s earliest years – he was born on January 14th, 1875 – they probably reflect sermons he heard in his early years.
30) See Louis Schweitzer’s insistence on the fact that the miracles are not taken up with issues to do with the healing of bodies but of those of souls (21.i.1888) consistent with his comment that »Die Wurzel alles Elendes liegt inwendig im Menschen.«
31) See a sermon dated 1.xii.1889, where, showing impatience with the theological questions arising from Col. 2.12–20, he prefers to emphasize that »von ihm (Jesus) eine neue sittliche, heiligende, erlösende Kraft« has come. Note also his sermons of 22.ix.1888 for his interpretation of the term »Menschensohn«, and of 6.iv.1889, where Christian dogmatic belief is relativized in favour of belief in the higher world of the spirit, »die er (Jesus) uns in seinem Wort und in seinem Leben geoffenbaret hat …«.
32) See his sermon dated 14.iv.1888: »In dieser freiwilligen Aufopferung Jesu liegt die grösste Macht des Christentums. Das ist das neue Gebot, das neue Leben, welches er der Welt gebracht.«
33) See sermon dated 28.ix.1889.
34) See sermon of 12.v.1888.
35) On the process see Arnold, Schweitzer, 65 f.
36) Text in Vorträge, 250.
37) It is clear from his letters to Helene in this period that he took his duties very seriously, at one point thinking that this job would be his job for the foreseeable future; and he was criticized for over-involvement with the students.
38) Grässer, Schweitzer, 19, for idea that divine service was central to him.
39) Predigten, 309 and 1065.
40) See Predigten, 381.
41) See Predigten, 380 f.
42) See Predigten, 511.
43) Predigten, 424: »Was sollen wir in der Kirche suchen? Sammlung und Gebet, mit einem Wort: Andacht …«.
44) Predigten, 260.
45) Predigten, 307.
46) Predigten, 335.
47) Predigten, 460.
48) Predigten, 550.
49) Predigten, 550.
50) Leben, 44, here stating that his decision to become a Privatdozent in the-ology rather than in philosophy was motivated by his »inner need« to preach, because according to his philosophy teacher, Theobald Ziegler, such activity would have been frowned upon had he decided to study philosophy.
51) See his sermon of 9th March, 1913, close to his departure to Lambarene, in Predigten, 1195. Also note the opening words of his last afternoon sermon in St. Nicolai on 25th February, 1912, in Predigten, 1172: »Diese Sonntagnachmittage gehörten zu dem Schönsten für mich, was ich in meinem Leben fand.«
52) Leben, 46, notes that he began with the afternoon sermon but then as his two co-pastors became older, he began to take on the morning service which was much better attended.
53) See Predigten, 309.
54) See Predigten, 425.
55) On the emphases of liberal preachers in the period around 1900, see Wilhelm Gräb, Die Predigt liberaler Theologen um 1900, in F. W. Graf and H. M. Müller (eds.), Der deutsche Protestantismus um 1900, Gütersloh 1990, 103–130, in which there is an analysis of one of Schweitzer’s sermons.
56) For a recent discussion of these see Arnold, Schweitzer, 69–111.
57) Grässer, Schweitzer, 238.
58) Predigten, 780.
59) Leben, 47; and letter to W. Bremi, dated, in Albert Schweitzer, Theologischer und philosophischer Briefwechsel, W. Zager in Verbindung mit Erich Grässer (eds.), Munich 2006, 129.
60) See Albert Schweitzer, Gespräche über das Neue Testament, Winfried Döberlin (ed.), München 1988, which gathers together a series of short and acces-sible pieces Schweitzer wrote on the New Testament, especially as this relates to the history of Jesus’ life, for the church magazine, Evangelisch-protestantischer Kirchenbote für Elsass und Lothringen.
61) Grässer, Schweitzer, 218, who describes the sermons as a place not to talk about Jesus but to lead people to him.
62) Predigten, 228: »Wir müssen wieder das Neue Testament lesen, nicht als eine Schrift, zusammengesetzt von geheimnisvollen Wahrheiten und erbaulichen Sprüchen, sondern als eine Schrift aus der uns das Bild Jesu im Leben und Reden herantritt …«. Note also his preface to: A Picture History of the Bible and Christianity in 1000 Pictures, Los Angeles 1952: »Das NT ist denen, die mit ihm vertraut sind, ein Freund, der sie durchs Leben begleitet, ein Freund, der ihnen hilft, innerlich voranzukommen.« (See Schweitzer, Vorträge, 393)
63) Emphasis upon the words of Jesus, which as found in Matthew and Mark, he took to be accurately transmitted, is present throughout Schweitzer’s oeuvre. It is especially important at the end of the first edition of The Quest and in the following words: »Gar wundersam enthüllt sich der Gebieter, wenn ein Mensch, nach einer höheren Tätigkeit suchend, die sein Leben lebenswert macht, an die Worte herantritt, in denen der Geist dessen, der geistiger Gebieter der Menschheit sein will, gebunden liegt und von dem papierenen Leichnam losstrebt, um in dem Geist eines Menschen lebendig aufzuerstehen und zu gebieten.« (Vorträge, 274, para 4)
64) See especially Predigten, 385 and 1324; and Die Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung in Grabs, Albert Schweitzer. Ausgewählte Werke, Bd. 3, 872 f.
65) Schweitzer’s work is littered with references to the idea of »Wahrhaftigkeit«, especially in relation to engagement with the Bible. See Predigten, 555–558, and Reich Gottes, 433. On the importance of »Wahrhaftigkeit« for Schweitzer, see Rössler, Christentum, 16 f.
66) Gespräche, 9 f.
67) Predigten 1014.1067.1074.
68) Predigten, 220.687.
69) Predigten, 540.821.
70) Predigten, 468.
71) See n. 65 above.
72) See Predigten, 268. Note also Schweitzer, Gespräche, 9 f.: »Wenn im Herzen kein Glaube und keine Frömmigkeit ist, nützt alles Wissen nichts, denn der Glaube kommt nicht aus dem Verstand; dann werden die Menschen nur eitel und aufgeblasen über ihr Wissen. Nur wo Glaube und Frömmigkeit schon sind, da nützt auch das Wissen um Dinge etwas.« It is interesting to ask whether Schweitzer persisted with this view. For a recent discussion, which posits a change in this respect, see Sebastian Moll, Albert Schweitzer. Meister der Selbstinszenierung, Berlin 2015, 68 f. Certainly language of this kind is less in evidence in later works, though Schweitzer was never interested in simply polemising against the Bible and always saw his interpretive work as having a wider, inner-Christian application.
73) For a selection of relevant texts in this context see Zager and Zager, Albert Schweitzer, 57–75, and 85–94.
74) Albert Schweitzer, Die Mystik des Apostels Paulus, in R. Grabs, Ausgewählte Werke, Bd. 4, 494.
75) See Andreas Rössler, Schweitzer, esp. 23–33.
76) See Schweitzer, Vorträge, 272. See also Reich Gottes, 463, where he states that dogmaticians make Christianity a religion about Jesus, not of him.
77) For an exposition of the view of Christianity as ever renewing itself, see Predigten, 1128.
78) For a discussion of the different terms used by Schweitzer to express his attachment to liberal Christianity see Rössler, Schweitzer, 24.
79) Such a view is often used by Schweitzer. See especially Schweitzer, Gespräche, 177 f. For a critical engagement the Trinity, see Predigten, 999–1004.
80) Zager, Theologe, 342 (from a text entitled »Das Recht der Wahrhaftigkeit in der Religion«, from 1929).
81) See Schweitzer, Vorträge, 246, where, while he notes that theological scholarship has given us freedom from dogmas and that we no longer stand under their rule, they were necessary and we respect them »as holy vessels in which past generations have housed the water of life.« But because they are historical they are not binding, just as monarch’s word is not binding in a parliamentary democracy.
82) A. Rössler, Impulse Albert Schweitzers für die religiöse und theologische Wahrhaftigkeit, in: Wolfgang E. Müller (ed.), Zwischen Denken und Mystik. Albert Schweitzer und die Theologie heute, Bodenheim 1997, 146.
83) Predigten, 900–903.
84) See Predigten, 1054 and 819, for comments on baptism and the eucharist respectively. Both witness to strongly spiritual interpretations.
85) On this see Rössler, Impulse, 144.
86) For this see Predigten, 363.454.906.1027. Also see inter alia Schweitzer, Vorträge, 275. See also his words to Helene Bresslau in a letter dated 23rd December, 1903: »Is it not remarkable that this great figure has suborned us and put us in chains?« and also 24th December 1904: »It is remarkable to look at a man and know that one is his slave« (Schweitzer/Bresslau, Jahre, 52 and 79 respectively). The letters of this period are studded with such references.
87) Predigten, 277.
88) Predigten, 318.
89) Leben, 21 f.
90) Schweitzer/Bresslau, Jahre, 79.
91) »Ich bin in Christo; in ihm erlebe ich mich als ein Wesen, das dieser sinnlichen, sündigen und vergänglichen Welt enthoben ist und bereits der verklärten Welt angehört; in ihm bin ich der Auferstehung gewiss; in ihm bin ich Kind Gottes.« (Mystik, 28)
92) See also Mystik, 486 f., where the centrality of Christ mysticism to any definition of Christianity is made clear.
93) See Geschichte, 882.
94) There are many places where this is the case. See esp. Schweitzer’s comment in: Kultur und Ethik in den Weltreligionen, U. Körtner and Johannes Zürcher (eds.), München 2001, 139, where Jesus’ ethical position is described as »Die sittliche Vervollkommnung des Einzelnen in seinem Verhältnis zu sich selbst und zu andern …«. Jesus’ ethical position is, as Schweitzer states in the same passage, the result of his eschatological viewpoint. Many other such presentations of Jesus’ ethic can be found.
95) »So kann auch das ewige Wesen [Jesu] nicht geschildert werden, sondern ist nur denen erfassbar, die in Gemeinschaft mit ihm verbunden sind.« (Vorträge, 275)
96) See Predigten, 545. Note also Vorträge, 474: »Gar wundersam enthüllt sich der Gebieter, wenn ein Mensch, nach einer höheren Tätigkeit suchend, die sein Leben lebenswert macht, an die Worte herantritt, in denen der Geist dessen, der geistiger Gebieter der Menschheit sein will, gebunden liegt und von dem papierenen Leichnam losstrebt, um in dem Geist eines Menschen lebendig aufzuerstehen und zu gebieten.«
97) See esp. Predigten, 372 f., for Schweitzer’s striking words about the power of Christ on the cross. See Vorträge, 275, for a description of »Leidensgemeinschaft«.
98) Predigten, 228.363.454.576.827.872.
99) Geschichte, 876 f.886.
100) For Schweitzer’s changing hermeneutical positions see Henning Pleitner, Albert Schweitzer. Das Ende der liberalen Hermeneutik am Beispiel Albert Schweitzers, Tübingen 1992.
101) See Gespräche, 177.
102) Predigten, 869–873.
103) See Predigten, 978, and his description of Ehrfurcht vor Jesus.
104) Andreas Rössler, Gottesgedanke bei Albert Schweitzer, in: Zager, Albert Schweitzer und das freie Christentum, 88–94.
105) See Rössler, Gottesgedanke, 99. In the letter to Rolffs, already mentioned, Schweitzer seems to differentiate between from the command of love, given by Jesus, and the belonging to God through love.
106) See Kultur und Ethik, 327. See Jackson L. Ice, Schweitzer: Prophet of Radi-cal Theology, Philadelphia 1976: »It is related, but it is also different. We discover it is the ethic of Jesus, first raised to a philosophical level of thought; second expanded into universal applicability, third infused with a more practical, con-taining this-worldly orientation, and fourth made cosmic in scope.« (137)
107) Rössler, Impulse, 145. Robert Morgan, in an unpublished essay (R. Morgan, ‘Albert Schweitzer’s Challenge and the Response from New Testament Theology’, in J. Carleton Paget and Michael Thate [eds.], Albert Schweitzer in Thought and Action. A Life in Parts (Syracuse University Press; forthcoming, 2016), has argued that these words can be heard in terms of traditional Christianity. »Follow thou me«, for instance, seems to echo John 21,22; but Morgan is clear that that person comes without Christological titles (note the opening words of the final paragraph of Geschichte in which the words just quoted also occur: »He comes to us as one unknown« [Schweitzer, Geschichte, 887]), and those titles are Messiah, Son of man and Son of God and and so bears no relationship to the traditional Jesus of the church.
108) Kultur und Ethik, 313: »Die Lehre Jesu bedeutet sicherlich die gewaltigs-te Tat in dem Werden der Ethik der Menschheit.«
109) Predigten, 1027. See also Kultur und Ethik, 249, where he associates dogma directly with a time of revelation and denounces it as opposed to natural thought.
110) Such a view might be confirmed by Schweitzer’s autobiographical sketch, originally published in 1926, under the name of Ernst Barthel, where he asserts the priority of philosophy in enabling him to understand Jesus’ eschatology. See Vorträge, 370. But there may be a more complicated relationship between eschatology, on the one hand, and philosophical thought. See U. Körtner, Ethik und Eschatologie. Zur Bedeutung des Eschatologieverständnisses Albert Schweitzers für die systematische Theologie der Gegenwart, in: Müller, Brennpunkte, 108–125.
111) Geschichte, 885.
112) See C. Günzler, Albert Schweitzer als liberaler Theologe. Schweitzers Hibbert- und Gifford-Lectures, in: Zager, Albert Schweitzer und das freie Christentum, 51–67.
113) See Albert Schweitzer, Kultur und Ethik, in: R. Grabs (ed.), Ausgewählte Werke in fünf Bänden, Berlin 1973, 377 f.
114) A point confirmed by Schweitzer in his response to Rolffs (Zager, Theologe, 340).
115) See Mystik, 488: »In Jesus Christo wird Gott als Wille der Liebe offenbar. In der Gemeinschaft mit Christo verwirklicht sich also die Gemeinschaft mit Gott, wie sie uns bestimmt ist.«
116) Henry Clark, The Ethical Mysticism of Albert Schweitzer, Boston 1962, 159. For a similar point, see Ara Barsam, Reverence for Life. Albert Schweitzer’s Great Contribution to Ethical Thought, New York 2008, 24–27.
117) Note Picht’s comment: »because as a moralist he proclaims not the love of Christ but the philosophic equivalent of the principle of love, the specifically Christian in his thought recedes into the background«, in: Werner Picht, The Life and Thought of Albert Schweitzer, London 1964, 194.
118) Rössler, Gott, 99: »Am ehesten ist Jesus für Schweitzer selbst ein Beispiel dafür, wie Gott sich im Innern eines Menschen offenbart.«
119) See Predigten, 457, in which Jesus is more than »ein hehres Exempel: Er wusste, dass er eine welterneuende Kraft ist«. See also Vorträge, 281, and many other places where Jesus is a »Kraft«.
120) Clark refers to Kindheit where Schweitzer speaks of the capacity of the example of one human being to light up the innate thoughts of another (Kindheit, 305). Note also his words to Helene, dated 1.v.1904: »Wir leben wenn unsere Gedanken in anderen wiedergeboren werden. Deshalb leben Sokrates und Chris-tus. Das ist die lebendige Unsterblichkeit! Wozu noch eine andere …« (ibid., 70).
121) Briefwechsel, 753.
122) Predigten, 1201.
123) Kultur und Ethik, 168 f.
124) Strassburger Vorlesungen, 722.
125) In an unpublished essay (R. Morgan, Albert Schweitzer’s Challenge), Robert Morgan argues that Schweitzer never engaged in what might be termed New Testament theology. For Morgan practitioners of New Testament theology assume some degree of continuity between the historically clarified theologies of the texts or authors of the New Testament, and their own beliefs. By contrast Schweitzer emphasized the difference.
126) Leben, 75.
127) For the history of German liberal theology, see M. Jacobs, Liberale Theologie, in TRE 21, Berlin/New York 1991, 47–51; and Matthias Wolfes, Protestantische Theologie und moderne Welt, Berlin 1999, esp. 1–71. Both authors engage in a discussion of the question of definition but more specifically see J. Lauster, Liberale Theologie. Eine Ermunterung, in: NZSTh 50 (2007), 291–307. Schweitzer’s contribution to the articulation of a liberal theology does not feature in the discussions above. This is not surprising, not least because in narratives of liberal theology, Schweitzer is often seen as one of its assailants because of his opposition to the modernising tendencies of so-called liberal theologians, and also because, for reasons to do with the way his life developed, he never became an engaged participant in discussions of the future of liberal theology, in spite of his strong association with the liberal-theological cause. For a study devoted to Schweitzer’s theological liberalism, see Pleitner, Schweitzer.
128) Letter dated 1.v.1904 (Schweitzer/Bresslau, Jahre, 68).
129) It is interesting that in the letter mentioned above, Schweitzer associates being a heretic with »(n)ur Jesus von Nazareth zu kennen.« Here Jesus piety and a »heretical« viewpoint converge.
130) Groos, Schweitzer, 499.