Dr Albert Albert Schweitzer was an expert on "The Historical Jesus", in addition to being a physician. I am not a theologist, but I want to understand Dr Schweitzer's lasting contribution for theologists today . Can you summarize, for an educated layperson, what Schweitzer's contribution was and how it is relevant for today?
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While known primarily for his contributions to the study of medicine and for his medical work for the benefit of indigenous tribes in western Africa, Schweitzer’s first passion was the study of religion. His The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, written in 1905, remains a much valued treatise on Christianity and the schism between beliefs regarding the historical and spiritual Jesus. A devout Lutheran, whose French identification was contrasted with his German influences (having grown up in the region of Alsace-Lorrain on the Franco-German border), Dr. Schweitzer sought to reconcile the discrepancies that exist within the Bible with the history of Jesus to the extent it can be traced through scientific study. He recognized that literal interpretations of the Bible could not withstand scientific scrutiny, and that a more reasoned approach to theology in general and Christianity in particular was warranted. As he wrote regarding the failure of Biblical prophesies in the opening to his treatise, “the world continued to exist, and its continuance brought this one-sided view to an end. The supra-mundane Christ and the historical Jesus of Nazareth had to be brought together into a single personality at once historical and raised above time.”
Further, noting that thoughtful analyses of the life of Jesus were consistently characterized by their brevity, and that this pattern of relatively brief studies constituted the development of a sort of stagnation in the study of Jesus, Dr. Schweitzer wrote in his chapter “The Struggle Against Eschatology,”
“People began to see that the elaborate Lives of Jesus which had hitherto held the field, and enjoyed an immortality of revised editions, only masked the fact that the study of the subject was at a standstill; and that the tedious rehandling of problems which had been solved so far as they were capable of solution only served as an excuse for not grappling with those which still remained unsolved.”
In the final chapter of The Quest of Historical Jesus, Schweitzer disposes of the notion of Jesus as the figure depicted in the Bible, but he does not dispose of Jesus as a figure of great historical importance:
“The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.
“This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which came to the surface one after another, and in spite of all the artifice, art, artificiality, and violence which was applied to them, refused to be planed down to fit the design on which the Jesus of the theology of the last hundred and thirty years had been constructed, and were no sooner covered over than they appeared again in a new form.”
While Reza Aslan, in his 2013 Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, makes no mention of Albert Schweitzer (except in his bibliography), his attempt to reconcile the Biblical history with the scientific, without rejecting the basic tenets of Christianity, owes a great deal to Schweitzer’s earlier analyses. Dr. Schweitzer was a scientist, a philosopher, and a theologian who believed in Divine Being. Like many scientifically-driven minds, he had considerable difficulty reconciling what could be scientifically proven with what had to be taken on faith.
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