Lawrence vs. Albert Schweitzer

As the drive toward the Golden Halo continues, we meet a martyred 3rd century deacon and an early 20th century renaissance man, humanitarian, and Nobel Prize winner. Lawrence lived out his faith in Rome, giving all that he had to the poor while Albert Schweitzer gave much of his energy and talents to building hospitals to care for the sick.

Yesterday, in the second lopsided contest in as many days, Sojourner Truth set Soren Kierkegaard free 77% to 23%. She'll face the winner of Frances Joseph-Gaudet vs. John Mason Neale in the Saintly Sixteen.

And remember, if anyone "grills" you about Lent Madness today, just tell them it's the world's greatest online Lenten devotion!


saint-lawrence-lyon-franceLawrence of Rome was a deacon who was martyred during the Valerian persecution of the Roman Church in 258. As he watched Pope Sixtus II being taken into custody, Lawrence cried out, asking Sixtus, “Father, where do you go without your deacon?” Sixtus replied that he would not leave Lawrence, but that Lawrence would follow him in three days. Upon hearing Sixtus’s statement, and in apparent joy that he would soon meet the nearer presence of the Lord, Lawrence went out and offered all he had to the poor, the widowed, and the orphans of Rome, even selling the vessels of the church to increase the amount of alms to distribute. When a Roman prefect became aware of Lawrence’s fire sale, he charged Lawrence to yield all the treasures of the church to the emperor within three days. Lawrence agreed to do so.

Lawrence went out among the city, seeking the lowest of society, the sick, the outcast, the orphaned, and the unloved. Three days later, this gathering made their way to the Roman prefect, who turned to Lawrence in rage. Lawrence, seeing the official’s anger, turned to him and reportedly asked, “What are you displeased at? These are the treasures of the Church.”

In return, Lawrence (sometimes spelled Laurence) was condemned to a slow death on a hot gridiron. After hours of torture, Lawrence is reputed to have quipped, “Let my body be turned; this side is well done enough.” After still more time, he spoke to his executioner, saying, “Assam est; versa et manduca!” which translates roughly to, “It is well done; turn it over and eat!” With his final quip, he died. While modern scholars have dismissed the legend as a fable, the story was clearly known to Ambrose, Augustine, and Prudentius, among others. After Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 315 CE, a chapel was constructed over Lawrence’s grave in the Roman catacombs.

Lawrence’s martyrdom continues to inspire devotion. For his piety and charity to the poor and outcast of Rome, he remains venerated as one of the city’s patron saints. While traditionally depicted in art holding a gridiron, the legendary instrument of his death, he is not, so far as sources can tell, the patron saint of American football, but he is the patron of archivists and librarians.

Collect for Lawrence
Almighty God, you called your deacon Lawrence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—David Sibley

Albert Schweitzer

Polymath Albert Schweitzer was born January 14, 1875, in Kayersberg, Germany (now France). He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and studied theology at what is now known as the University of Strasbourg. He wrote many important volumes, perhaps none as influential as The Quest for the Historical Jesus. He was also an internationally regarded concert organist and musicologist.

In 1905, at age thirty, Schweitzer felt called to take up medicine to help those in need. Eight years later, Schweitzer and his wife, Hélène, founded a hospital in Lambaréné Gabon in French Equatorial Africa. In 1917 they were sent to a French internment camp as prisoners of war. Four months later they were released. The following year, they returned to Europe, where Schweitzer resumed writing books, performing concerts, and preaching in churches. In 1924, Schweitzer returned to Lambaréné, where he lived until his death on September 4, 1965. He used royalties from books, speaking fees, concert revenues, and donations to transform the humble hospital into a massive complex capable of serving more than five hundred patients at a time.

He was awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Africa. In his later years, he used his platform to warn against the dangers of nuclear proliferation and to lobby for an end to nuclear testing. He is buried on the hospital grounds with his wife. A cross he made with his own hands marks his grave.

Collect for Albert Schweitzer
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Albert Schweitzer to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

— David Creech

Lawrence vs. Albert Schweitzer

  • Albert Schweitzer (60%, 4,113 Votes)
  • Lawrence (40%, 2,775 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,888

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Lawrence: Limoges polychrome enamel plaque, late 16th century–early 17th century.
Albert Schweitzer: By Nobel Foundation ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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209 comments on “Lawrence vs. Albert Schweitzer”

  1. Another impossible choice! I rather impulsively voted for Lawrence, then had some regrets for not choosing Albert Schweiter. His ground-breaking New Testament studies affected me greatly in seminary, he left a very successful multi-leveled career to serve others in a difficult environment, and he gave us a great example of what he meant by "reverence for life." I voted for the great Roman martyr Lawrence for the sake of history--all he has inspired in devotion (the Church of Rome formerly celebrated his feast with an octave), art, poetry (Prudentius), architecture (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura), the Escorial. And as a martyr-deacon he literally fulfilled what it was not to be served but to serve. "Live with Christ and Lawrence!"

  2. My father's middle name was Lawrence.

    My own middle name is the feminine form of that name: Laureen.

    I'm voting for Lawrence.

  3. I've never commented here before but I had to jump in and say that I'm confused by the lack of connection that the majority seem to have with the ancient Saints of the Church. It seems that time after time the newer, modern (usually European or North American) folks beat out the established Fathers and Mothers of the Church.

    I voted for St. a mile.

    I guess I take this all too seriously...not the first time in my life where I've had that problem. (Not even the first time *today*!)

    Thanks for making this site available...I really enjoy it each year.

    1. Personally I'm convinced that's why the SEC put Cyril and Methodius up against each other -- so SOMEBODY from those early centuries would advance!

    2. You're right, Jacob, and if you think it necessary you can compensate for these serious episodes by cracking silly jokes on other days.

      The prevailing mindset amongst us Madsters means that, put up against a modern saint with lots of documented accomplishments, a publication or two, and maybe even a Nobel Prize, the ancient will always lose. The ancient stories have from their birth been invitations to imagine the historical figure that lies behind them (or even in some cases, such as George, to imagine a figure that might have lain behind them). Unlike contemporary factual accounts, they were never meant to put bounds on our imagination.

      Lawrence's stories evince a character and a faith fully the equal of Albert Schweitzer's, with none of the off-notes sounded by contemporary descriptions of the conditions and management at the hospital at Lambaréné. From the few fragments we have concerning Lawrence it's fair to assume, I think, that he excelled in good works as well as faith of exceptional purity and devotion. Though he lived in a time when practical accomplishments such as Schweitzer's were impossible, not to say unimaginable, his story is of one who cheerfully did and gave his utmost -- good enough to get my vote.

      1. AND the "doer" usually wins over the mystic, which drives me crazy, because the mystics and writers did plenty!! And early saints with miraculous stories are discounted as "not realistic"--even though there's nothing at all realistic about the miracles and resurrection of the Lord at all!
        But, yeah, if there's a photograph, and it's of a woman, she's in like Flynn!

  4. This one was tough. No easy quick decision. They both were filled with holy purpose and followed their "call" to help others. I did end up choosing Lawrence, as he was so smart and swift to dispose of all the "valuables" of the Church and turn it in to sustenance, clothing, etc. for the immediate and present poor, knowing he had only 3 days to get this done! Then he wisely brought the poor (the ones Jesus told us to take care of, for heaven's sake) to the Church hierarchy presenting them as the (true) Treasure of the Church. And THEN, to top it all off, he retained and shared his gift of humor all through the agonizing torture right up to the very end! Whatta guy!

  5. I love Lawrence proclamation "here are the treasures of the church" as he presented the poor and downtrodden to the Romans. He gets my vote!

  6. I first learned of the extensive accomplishments of Albert Schweitzer when an organ memorial was dedicated to him at Spivey Hall on the Clayton State University campus. His daughter and only child Rhena was there for the ceremony. So my vote goes to Dr. Schweitzer.

  7. As a physician who is also a musician (not to mention that I am 1/2 German), I could only make one obvious choice: DR. ALBERT SCHWEIZER!

  8. Two great men, but I have to give points for being able to offer excellent snark under considerable duress. Lawrence!

  9. As my namesake, and as a patron saint of my favorite city to visit, and for his witty quips, Lawrence gets my vote!

  10. It is too easy to vote for a man who lived and worked so recently. Lawrence died for his faith and his love of the poor. Plus he died a painful death joking all the way. Go Lawrence!

  11. This is a hard vote for me. Both made serious sacrifices for their faith (Lawrence's life, Schweitzer's academic career).
    For Lawrence, there's the added positive factors for my vote that (1) the voting in Lent Madness tends to be skewed in favour of more modern saints as opposed to the ancients, (2) that his "treasures of the church" comment is one of the great one-liners of church history, (3) that there are no fanciful stories of "talking heads" and such that are often present in the stories of ancient martyrs, (4) his sense of humour even in a horrific death, and (5) the fact that Christ Church St. Laurence is one of three or four 'oasis churches" in the dry desert of Sydney "Anglicanism".
    For Schweitzer, (1) his conviction that God needed him not to be a brilliant biblical scholar in Europe but as a just-barely-OK MD in Africa and the fact that he followed up on this, (2) the fact that he persisted in following up on this call after the bureaucrats of the mission board first knocked him back because his theology wasn't conservative enough, (3) his love for - and skill in - classical music.
    Line ball for me. And I can't go for the underdog on the basis of the comments because almost everyone else is similarly conflicted. On the simple basis that earlier centuries of Christian history are often underrepresented in the later rounds of LM, I'll vote for Lawrence.

  12. Having worn a deacon's stole for 15 years prior to being demoted to priesthood, it's Lawrence for me.

  13. I'm really torn here. There are so many reasons to admire both saints in competition here. Oliver is right once again that Albert Schweitzer looks like a fun guy, how can you be more of a fun guy than joking with your torturers as they are killing you! I've gone back and forth and finally voted for Lawrence for personal reasons. Lawrence was my father's name!

  14. With all deference to Marilyn and Oliver, it's not at all clear that Schweitzer was a "fun guy," however many his other virtues.

    1. True enough. Mother Teresa never seem very fun to me.
      Maybe some back stage footage of her cutting up will surface in the future.

      We can only pray.

    2. Pat Floerke - I agree with you completely! It was a tough decision today, but the recognition of people (especially those who are often marginalized) was the factor leading me to vote for Lawrence.

  15. I remember reading Albert Schweitzer in high school German class. I'm surprised I remembered as much as I did after reading the synopsis. Good to remember, good to know. Now I know something about Laurence. In the end..Herr Schweitzer.

  16. I love Lent Madness for days like this. I knew so little of Albert Schweitzer before and had no idea he was such a renaissance man with so many talents. Although he is fascinating and utterly worthy, I must go with Lawrence for the sheer audaciousness of presenting the poor to the Emperor as the treasures of the church! We all need to internalize that statement!

    I'm also amazed and thrilled to hear that St. Lawrence University has a paper called the gridiron. Very sly... and funny!

  17. Another tough one. Lawrence, because he made a powerful and poetic statement about the priorities of the Church. Quips or not, he endured the, (for a wimp like me) unimaginable as a witness to his faith.
    "If anyone grills you about Lent Madness...." ??? Groaner of the year.

  18. I just returned from my weekly work on the diocesan archives. Like my fellow deacons before me, I vote for Lawrence. He has been a favorite of mine for years. Enough said.

  19. I'm partial to deacons, being married to one. Lawrence thought outside the box regarding the treasures of the church and he kept his sense of humor right till the last so he got my vote.

  20. Glad to see that Laurence has closed the gap since the morning, but still ... Albert has his Nobel Prize. And if you polled the world over, how many people today know of the contributions of Laurence vs. Albert, who is still a household name? Let's diversify a little here! Come on people, vote for Laurence! Besides, the Saintly Kitsch round will be so much better with Larry and his barbeque rack than Albert with his organ.

  21. My 8 year old twins and I voted for Albert today because he is a preacher's kid. Everybody in our house is a preacher's kid.

  22. Last summer I read Albert Schweitzer's autobiography. He was quite simply one of the most amazing people who ever lived. While studying for his doctorate in theology, he was teaching classes and pastoring a church. He became a self-taught virtuoso organist, cataloged all of Bach's works and wrote the definitive biography of Bach. In his spare time, he worked his way through medical school. He believed it was hypocritical to preach about love for his fellow man without actually doing something for them. So, he went to Africa, a very difficult feat in those days, and created a medical mission in the jungles of Gabon. With all these different projects, the depth of his intellect and spirituality is astounding. Ten people could work very hard and not accomplish half what this one man did. If any human being deserves to be sainted, it's him.

  23. I especially love the saints with a sense of humor and his wisely innocent explanation about the treasures of the church reminded me of another sweetly innocent saint, Brother Juniper and that face, angelic! Hoping for a St. Lawrence rally!

  24. One of the last again today, I cast my vote for Albert Sweitzer. The comments are so good, and humorous, so I choose Albert for his musical ability, (as a nearly lifelong choir member) for his medical knowledge put to use for so many people, for his missionary zeal, for using his wealth, such as it was, as influence for the betterment of others. It does bother me a bit that Lawrence did not sell so many personal and church items until the last three days of his life, though I am sure he must have done some good works before that in his life as a deacon. But, woe unto me...for it is said, "judge not, lest...."