«Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism

by Filippo Maria Giordano (Volume editor) Stefano Dell'Acqua (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 342 Pages
Series: Federalism, Volume 4


Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1900–1985), Dutch pastor and theologian, was one of the most significant personalities in the Protestant Ecumenical movement. Deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and filled with a strong Ecumenical spirit, he was closely involved in the founding of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected General Secretary. During the Second World War, many Protestants became convinced of the need for an international political system which, beside uniting the nations and peoples of Europe, would guarantee them fundamental freedoms and mutual respect for their historical, cultural and confessional traditions.
The directors of the WWC were strongly committed to federalism, partly because of the political traditions of the states from which their member churches originated (Switzerland; Great Britain and its Commonwealth; the United States), and partly because of their conviction that a simple confederation of states, based on the model of the League of Nations, would be completely incapable of containing national ambitions. In spring 1944, Visser ’t Hooft welcomed into his Geneva home the representatives of the European Resistance, who, under the leadership of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, signed the International Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements. These historic transnational encounters, aimed not only at coordinating military action or seeking diplomatic contacts but at exploring ways to «build» peace and re-establish the future of the Continent on new foundations, marked a profound break with the past.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Geleitwort
  • Introduction
  • Willem Adolph Visser ’t Hooft
  • “Die Welt war meine Gemeinde”
  • Global Ethics and World Federalism
  • Part I. The Religious, Cultural and Political Debate on Europe Between the Two Wars
  • The Ecumenical Movement between the Two World Wars and the Birth of the World Council of Churches
  • Le renouveau du protestantisme en Europe
  • From the Criticism of the League of Nations to the Project of a New Europe
  • Critique de la souveraineté nationale et fédéralisme communicatif
  • Part II. Visser ’t Hooft during the Second World War. Ecumenism, Europe, Resistance, Federalism
  • Geneva between Cosmopolitanism, Resistance Movements and Federalism
  • Federal Union et la tentative d’apporter la bataille fédéraliste sur le continent
  • The 1944 Meetings at the House of Willem Adolph Visser ’t Hooft
  • La contribution française à la Déclaration fédéraliste internationale des mouvements de Résistance
  • A Protestant and Political Solidarity
  • W. A. Visser ’t Hooft between Ecumenism and Federalism. The Idea of European Unity
  • Part III. The Protestant World and the Idea of European Federation
  • Protestants, Ecumenical Perspectives and Federalism
  • Plans of Christian Churches and Groups on the Future of Europe in “Documents on the History of European Integration” by Walter Lipgens
  • La Contribution des vaudois au fédéralisme européen
  • Ecumenism and the Construction of the European Union
  • A Witness
  • My Grandfather
  • Index
  • Series index



Most Europeans associate the notion of “Europe” with something positive, like a glorious past – with its ups and downs, of course – or several great achievements in a variety of domains. We Europeans owe Europe nearly 70 years of peaceful leaving together and, overall, steadily growing prosperity, too.

Many Europeans also agree to the idea of the European Union as a model for peace, even for other regions of the globe, although at the same harbouring significant doubts about and often heavily criticizing certain manifestations of centralisation, bureaucratisation, and overregulation.

The goal of this volume is to recall the great figures that have stood at the origins of European unification and who were all but technocrats, chief among them the long-time secretary general of the World Council of Churches, Dr Willem Adolf Visser’t Hooft. He represents both the political strive for the federal unity of Europe and the religious strive for ecumenical unity. To relate these two notions of unity to each other is a most beneficial exercise, and I begin by highlighting two differentiations.

Many Europeanists reject the uniform, technocratic Europe that is prominently propagated, in their functionalist conception of economy and politics, by quite a few technocrats in Brussels and by interest groups such as lobbyists in several countries. In this line of thought, Europe is first of all a market, an organisation, and economic interdependence. In other words, Europe is seen as a vast financial, economic and social space in need of both effective coordination as well as military protection through the use of current economic technologies, management possibilities, and the influence of trade unions.

But a Europe united by science, poetry, art, culture and spirituality had already existed for centuries before the destructive nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries; before also the constructive Euro-politicians and Eurocrats of the 20th and 21st centuries. Could not this spiritual notion of Europe be re-gained? In any case, the conception of Europe as advanced by a functionalist understanding of economy and politics begs so many questions that a spiritual renewal is necessary! ← 11 | 12 →

On the other hand, however, even many convinced Christians do not want to see a spiritually restored Europe become reality – they disagree with that kind of Europe pursued by the Polish and German Restoration popes during the last decades of their re-evangelisation campaigns. Moreover, the justified call for spiritual renewal is often accompanied by an annoyingly one-sided denunciation of Western democracy as consumerist, hedonist, and materialist. And Church hierarchies and their magisteria also all too frequently refrain from unequivocally supporting modern values such as freedom of conscience, parliamentary democracy, pluralism, individualism, and tolerance.

In today’s pluralist Europe with its human beings from many religions and no religion there is thus a need for a renewed consciousness of common human, ethical values. One simply cannot deny the craving for a morally based fundamental conviction in a world of so many temptations and allurements, and for a binding system of values and ethical norms. Only through this will we be able to keep our pluralist and individualist society together.

Based on this, it has become evident that even today federalism is still needed politically as much as ecumenism is still needed religiously. Federalism (from Latin foedus = pact, alliance) denotes the attempt to create and maintain a federal union with as large an autonomy of its component units as possible – the opposite, that is, of centralism and uniformity. Federalism strives for unity in diversity. Religiously, ecumenism (from Greek oikoumene = the whole inhabited earth) too strives for such unity in diversity: in other words, not a single, unitary church, but a “union” of different churches and religions in the common service of mankind.

The great figure of Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft shows how both these principles can become embodied in one and the same person. As founder and Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tübingen, I of course sought and enjoyed to be in close contact with the real founder, first secretary general and long-time leading person of the World Council of Churches, Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft. He was to me an organisational talent with great charisma, a reformed theologian with firm convictions – and yet ecumenical breadth – who not once put his own person first but always worked for the common Christian cause. I had visited him once in Geneva, much earlier, and in June 1970 he journeyed, although already retired, all the way to Bossey to attend a gathering of our group of more than 30 Directors of ecumenical institutes from Europe, America and Australia. After that I once more travelled with my institute’s team to a debate and dinner to Geneva. ← 12 | 13 →

I feel there are many similarities between Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft and myself. First of all as regards citizenship: Undoubtedly Switzerland was to him, who had spent the last period of his life in Geneva, an especially successful example of federalism. He was also proud that, as a Dutch citizen, he had been made honorary citizen of Geneva, and very much liked to show me his Swiss passport.

But then also, secondly, as advocates of ecumenism: Soon after the publication of my book “Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage” (1970; English translation 1971: “Infallible? An inquiry”), he wrote to me that “when I read it, I more and more felt I was holding an Atomic bomb, because if these ideas are taken on board by Catholicism, a completely new situation will emerge. Then, Protestantism will have no real cause anymore to actually protest.” Unfortunately, Visser ’t Hooft’s expectation was not realised. Yet to me he remains a beacon of hope to an extent that I have dedicated my book Das Christentum. Wesen und Geschichte (1994) to him, alongside Pope John XXIII, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey: because they all have “credibly embodied their paradigm of Christianity and yet opened it up for the great Christian oikoumene.”

How sad, I thought in such moments, that the Catholic Church does not posses a pope of Visser ’t Hooft’s inches. On the other hand, would this independent mind rooted in the Gospel ever have risen to the ranks of bishop and cardinal? Quite possibly Visser ’t Hooft and the new Pope Francis would have gotten along very well.

I thank the editors and co-authors for their very stimulating contributions and wish this book to find many readers and to stimulate further discussions of this important issue.

Tübingen, February 2014Hans Küng ← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 →



Die meisten Europäer verbinden mit dem Begriff Europa etwas Positives, eine große Vergangenheit – freilich mit Licht und Schatten – und viele große Errungenschaften auf den verschiedensten Gebieten. Wir Europäer verdanken Europa fast 70 Jahre friedlichen Zusammenlebens und aufs Ganze gesehen wachsenden Wohlstands.

Viele Europäer bejahen im Prinzip auch die Europäische Union als ein Friedensmodell, sogar für andere Weltregionen, haben aber zugleich erhebliche Reserven und oft sogar scharfe Kritik an bestimmten Erscheinungsformen von Zentralismus, Bürokratie und Regulierungssucht.

Dieser Band hier will die großen Gestalten in Erinnerung rufen, die am Ursprung der europäischen Einigung standen und keine Technokraten waren, vor allem den langjährigen Generalsekretär des Ökumenischen Rats der Kirchen, Dr. Visser ’t Hooft. Er repräsentiert beides: das politische Einheitsstreben in Europa im Zeichen des Föderalismus und das religiöse Streben nach Einheit im Zeichen des Ökumenismus. Es ist eine äußerst fruchtbare Problemstellung, diese beiden Begriffe miteinander in Verbindung zu bringen. Ich möchte zunächst auf zwei Abgrenzungen hinweisen.

Viele überzeugte Europäer wollen kein uniformes technokratisches Europa, wie dies in der Konzeption einer funktionalistischen Ökonomie und Politik besonders von manchen Brüsseler Technokraten und von Interessengruppen wie Lobbyisten in den einzelnen Ländern propagiert wird. Europa ist nach dieser Konzeption in erster Linie Markt, Organisation, wirtschaftliche Verflechtung. Europa ist ein riesiger Finanz-, Wirt-schafts- und Sozialraum, den es mit heutigen Techniken der Wirtschaft, Möglichkeiten des Managements und Einflüssen der Gewerkschaften effektiv zu gestalten und zugleich militärisch zu sichern gilt.

Aber Europa gab es schon in gemeinsamer Wissenschaft, Dichtung, Kunst, Kultur und Geistigkeit Jahrhunderte vor den destruktiven Nationalismen des 19. und 20. und den konstruktiven Europolitikern und Eurokraten des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts. Ob sich nicht ein geistiger Begriff von Europa wiedergewinnen lässt? Die Europa-Konzeption einer funktionalistischen Ökonomie und Politik zieht jedenfalls so viele Fragen nach sich, dass Europa einer geistigen Erneuerung bedarf! ← 15 | 16 →

Aber andererseits wollen auch überzeugte Christen kein christlich restauriertes Europa verwirklicht sehen, wie dies von dem polnischen und dem deutschen Restaurationspapst in den letzten Jahrzehnten in ihrer Re-Evangelisierungskampagne angestrebt wurde. Oft wird ja der berechtigte Ruf nach einer geistig-geistlichen Erneuerung von einer penetrant-einseitigen Denunziation der westlichen Demokratie als Konsumismus, Hedonismus und Materialismus begleitet. Und oft gibt es von Seiten kirchlicher Hierarchien und ihres „Lehramts“ keine unzweideutige Bejahung der modernen Werte der Gewissensfreiheit, der parlamentarischen Demokratie, des Pluralismus, der Individualität und der Toleranz.

Im heutigen pluralistischen Europa mit seinen Menschen aus vielen Religionen und keiner Religion braucht es eine neue Besinnung auf gemeinsame humane ethische Werte. Nicht zu übersehen ist auch in der heutigen Welt mit ihren vielfältigen Versuchungen und Reizangeboten das Verlangen nach einer moralischen Grundorientierung, nach einem verbindlichen Wertesystem und ethischen Normen. Nur so können wir unsere pluralistische und individualistische Gesellschaft zusammenhalten.

Vor diesem Hintergrund braucht es auch heute noch im politischen Bereich den Föderalismus wie im religiösen Bereich den Ökumenismus. Föderalismus (von lat. foedus = Bündnis) ist das Streben nach Errichtung und Erhaltung eines Bundesstaates mit weitgehender Eigenständigkeit der Einzelstaaten. Föderalismus ist also das Gegenteil von Zentralismus und Uniformität. Föderalismus erstrebt Einheit in Vielfalt. Im religiösen Bereich erstrebt der Ökumenismus (von griech. oikoumene = ganze bewohnte Erde) ebenfalls eine Einheit in Vielfalt. Also auch keine Einheitskirche und keine Einheitsreligion, sondern ein „Bündnis“ verschiedener Kirchen und Religionen im gemeinsamen Dienst an der Menschheit.

Dass beides in einer Person lebendig verwirklicht werden kann, zeigt die große Gestalt von Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft. Als Direktor des von mir gegründeten Instituts für ökumenische Forschung an der Universität Tübingen war mir natürlich ein Kontakt mit dem eigentlichen Gründer und ersten Generalsekretär und lange Zeit führenden Kopf des Ökumenischen Rates der Kirchen Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft von ganz besonderer Bedeutung. Er war für mich ein Charismatiker mit Organisationstalent, ein reformierter Theologe mit festen Überzeugungen, und doch ökumenischer Weite, dem es nie primär um seine Person, sondern um die gemeinsame christliche Sache ging. Ich hatte ihn früher schon einmal in Genf besucht, und im Juni 1970 hat er sich, obwohl inzwischen pensioniert, eigens nach Bossey hinaus bemüht, zu einem Gespräch mit unserer Gruppe von über 30 Direktoren ökumenischer Institute aus Europa, Amerika und ← 16 | 17 → Australien. Auch später reiste ich nochmals mit unserem Institutsteam zu einem Gespräch und Abendessen nach Genf.

Ich fühle mit Willem Visser ’t Hooft eine große Gemeinsamkeit. Erstens als Staatsbürger: Zweifellos war die Schweiz für ihn, der die letzte Zeit seines Lebens in Genf verbrachte, ein besonders gelungenes Beispiel für den Föderalismus. Er war stolz darauf, als holländischer Bürger Ehrenbürger von Genf zu sein und zeigte mir gerne seinen Schweizer Pass.

Dann aber auch als Anwalt der Ökumene: Schon bald nach dem Erscheinen meines Buches „Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage“ (1970) schrieb er mir: „Als ich es las, hatte ich mehr und mehr das Gefühl, eine Atombombe in der Hand zu haben. Denn wenn diese Ideen im Katholizismus aufgenommen werden, so wird eine völlig neue Situation entstehen. Dann wird der Protestantismus keinen ernsthaften Grund mehr haben zum Protestieren.“ Leider erfüllte sich Visser ’t Hoofts Hoffnung nicht. Aber er blieb für mich eine maßgebliche Hoffnungsgestalt, so dass ich seinem Andenken mein Buch Das Christentum. Wesen und Geschichte (1994) zusammen mit Papst Johannes XXIII, dem Ökumenischen Patriarchen von Konstantinopel Athenagoras und dem Erzbischof von Canterbury Dr. Michael Ramsey gewidmet habe: weil sie „ihr Paradigma von Christentum glaubwürdig verkörperten und es doch öffneten für die große christliche Ökumene.“

Wie schade, dachte ich dann immer wieder, dass die katholische Kirche nicht über einen Papst von der Statur eines Visser ’t Hooft verfügt. Doch wäre dieser, im Evangelium verwurzelte, unabhängige Kopf im römischen System je zum Bischof und Kardinal aufgestiegen? Vielleicht hätten sich Visser ’t Hooft und der neue Papst Franziskus gut verstanden.

Ich danke den Herausgebern und Mitautoren für ihre höchst anregenden Beiträge und wünsche dem Buch viele Leser und Diskussionen dieser wichtigen Problematik.

Tübingen, Februar 2014Hans Küng ← 17 | 18 →

← 18 | 19 →



Ecumenism and Federalism: a Historical Convergence

A great Alsatian scholar and prominent interpreter of the Bible, Oscar Cullmann, wrote that “the objective of every form of ecumenism is unity, more or less,” but he also warned that confusing unity with uniformity meant “simplifying the fundamental need of ecumenism.” He claimed that “the Una Sancta is not uniformitas sancta. To avoid this confusion – Cullmann explained – it should be clarified that unity is unity in diversity. In turn, diversity can then be simplified in terms of inconsistent plurality, which leads to dispersion, to separation. In that case, diversity must be specified as diversity in unity.” The two terms: unity and diversity, the Lutheran theologian concluded, “must be taken very seriously. […] The objective to which I aspire, which should not be provisional but permanent, is a unity in which each Church retains its own precious and inalienable features as well as its own structure. In the absence of a better term, I called it a ‘federation’.”1 Cullman’s proposed federation of the various Christian denominations in the hope that Christians would restore unity in the Spirit and life of the Church, ideally goes hand in hand with the old Kantian project of a federation of free states2, aimed at achieving the political unity of the peoples of Europe, without diminishing their historical, cultural and religious differences. This means a federation with the aim of promoting that “perpetual peace” which is able to work towards the prosperity and happiness of its citizens, while preserving the many different cultures, traditions and languages that have always characterised the countries on the old continent. ← 19 | 20 →

Like Cullmann, the founding fathers of the first European Community – which laid the foundations of continental peace and reconstruction at the end of the Second World War – Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi, were naturally inclined to strive to overcome the linguistic, cultural and hence political borders and, albeit politicians and not theologians, were equally inspired by cosmopolitical values as well as Christian faith and beliefs. They paved the way for the political choices that triggered the integration and unification process of the European continent and resulted in the creation of the European Union at the end of the “Short Twentieth Century” and the proclamation of the motto “unity in diversity”, which is strikingly similar to the spirit that has driven ecumenism and can now be identified as a common sign and path of suffering and redemption of the European (secular and religious) consciousness of the last century.

It is no coincidence that another great protagonist of recent European history, Jacques Delors, deeply rooted in his Christian values, recalled that “les origines mêmes, les racines de notre réflexion politique sur le fédéralisme, la subsidiarité et la démocratie ont […] de forts ancrages dans la pensée chrétienne et oecuménique”. These words clearly reflect the deep bond between Christian tradition and culture and federalist thought and federalism, regarded as a philosophy and politico-institutional theory of the modern State. In fact, as Delors explained, “chaque groupe chrétien” gave “un apport décisif indispensable et spécifique dans l’élaboration de ces concepts fondamentaux à travers la rationalisation du droit naturel, qui a permis de dégager des principes communs métapositifs à la théorie de l’organisation politique contemporaine.”3

Despite this unquestionable mixing, European federalism still remains a well-defined political theory that, thanks to Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi’s clear reflections, evolved into a political programme in the Ventotene Manifesto, which undertook to demonstrate the possibility of transforming the utopian ideal of peace in a rational and concrete project4.

By starting from these assumptions and equating federalism with ecumenism, historicising the time of their convergence in terms of ideals and at the political level within the context of the Second World War and the activities of the Ecumenical Movement, this collection of essays is ← 20 | 21 → meant to provide a broader definition of the European Resistance concept, which paves the way for the new historiographical perspectives that will be mentioned in the second part of this introduction5. To introduce the subject and content of this collection, it suffices to remind readers that by the late 1930s in Geneva the ecumenical prospects of the Orthodox and protestant world had already gravitated around Dutch Reformed Pastor Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft, Secretary of the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1937 to 1948 (and later Secretary of the WCC from 1948 to 1966) as well as one of the most emblematic personalities of 19th century ecumenism, and closely intertwined with the Europeanist and federalist prospects of Anglo-Saxon world of political and religious culture as well as of anti-Fascist circles throughout Europe.

In the first part of this collection which outlines the religious, cultural and political debate on Europe between the two world wars, it is clear from the outset that both at the religious and the historical-political level the premises and objectives of the supporters of ecumenism and Europeanism and federalism converged regarding the analysis of international relations. In addition to the Phariseism of the Churches, deplored by the Ecumenical Movement, the supporters of a unified and supranational (federalist) vision of Europe criticised nationalism condemning the suppression of the individual in terms of identity and reasserting, in spite of the absolute and all-encompassing demands of the nation-state, the Kantian principle of man as an end (Morelli, Malandrino). Ecumenism was expressed with equal consistency through a Christocentric vision that transcended religious divisions in order to affirm the unity of believers (Ricca) and refuted, using Barth’s theology, the rationalisation of God, that national Churches (not confessing Churches) had gone astray and, even worse, that religion was being idealistically reduced to an instrument of secular ideologies (Miegge).

For the sake of clarity, three introductory essays precede this first part, providing the readers not only with a remarkable biographical and intellectual profile of Visser ’t Hooft (Giampiccoli), but also with the conceptual tools to outline federalism in philosophical-(cosmo)political (Henry) and theoretical-political (Levi) terms, launching a critical comparison with its religious counterpart, i.e., ecumenism, in terms of comparative principles and ethical values. In this way, readers can understand the far-sightedness of personalities such as Visser ’t Hooft and others, who from federalism and ecumenism managed to move, even in their actions, towards the common ideal of universal brotherhood and political cosmopolitanism, overcoming the fictitious divisions of mankind. However, ← 21 | 22 → a dual challenge that is still underway will also become evident: first, to institutionalise interreligious dialogue worldwide6 through ecumenical practices and based on common structural elements7; and second, to adopt a rational standard – already identified in federalism, albeit with room for improvement – so as to overcome international anarchy resulting from both the policy of the States and regional organisations as well as the world of finance, something which they have not been able to do thus far, and democratically govern the relationships among peoples. In addition, there is the difficult but essential goal of defining a global code of ethics which can spread to the greatest extent possible an order of universal values shared worldwide and create aggregation and unity among the various religious and political realities which are engaged in dialogue and are cooperating8.

The second part of the book focuses on the historical events and the setting for the efforts of the Dutch Pastor, weaving around him a dense network of contacts and relationships with many members of the various Christian Churches and of the European Resistance movements involved in the struggle against Fascism; the contexts and circumstances that helped create the ideal and material conditions for the positive convergence of federalism and ecumenism (Castro, Bosco). This convergence led to the drafting of the Federalist Declaration of the European Resistance Movements, signed in Geneva on May 20th, 1944 at Visser ’t Hooft’s house (Braga, Caraffini, Dell’Acqua), which demonstrated the firm adherence of the WCC Secretary and part of its leadership to federalist ideas (Giordano).

The last section contains specific contributions from the Protestant world regarding the idea of European federation in a climate of ecumenism, including Denis de Rougemont’s Personalist experience (Bouchard) and that of the Waldensian federalists and the Barthian Italians, led by theologian Giovanni Miegge, with the “theological days” of 1945, focused on “Ecumenism and Federalism” (Giordano). Another essay highlights the plans of groups and Christian churches concerning the political future of Europe. Starting with Walter Lipgens’s9 powerful documentary research, this essay points out that in the 1930s the need ← 22 | 23 → to overcome the narrow-mindedness of nationalism and find some form of political unification of the continent (Dell’Acqua) was already almost unequivocally felt throughout the Christian world. Finally, an essay and a personal account are presented. The first provides the Ecumenical Movement’s perspective on the potential of and recent developments in the European integration process (Spini), the second sheds light on some aspects of the life of the great architect of the WCC (Visser ’t Hooft), this time through the personal memories of his grandson.

In conclusion, this collection dedicated to Visser ’t Hooft also invites readers to form a broader and more articulated vision of the relationship between federalism and ecumenism, one that is more complex than the simple combination of two complementary practices. In order to provide some thoughts for reflection, which are the cornerstone of this collection, we would like to draw attention to two aspects in particular which underscore a drastic change in perspective for Protestant supporters of the Ecumenical Movement with respect to their approach to political issues compared to the liberal Protestantism of the previous century. In fact, we believe that the understanding and acceptance of federalism by some members of the Ecumenical Movement developed at the religious level along two lines: that of Barth’s theology on the one hand and Christian Realism on the other. Barth’s theology, which will be better and more thoroughly addressed by Mario Miegge in his essay, has already been alluded to. As for Christian Realism10, an almost moral consequence of the “theology of crisis” and one of the possible political positions offered to the believer by the Barthian approach, it is still difficult to assess its true significance in the WCC members’ process of approaching federalism. However, in Anglo-Saxon Protestantism (especially in the US), between the two wars, it represented a major leaning towards political activism. Reinhold Niebuhr himself, one of the greatest representatives of Christian Realism, followed the ecumenical phenomenon with interest and participated in its activities, helping to orient the movement towards dialogue and interdenominational mediation. Therefore, like Visser ’t Hooft and other Protestant ecumenical members – including William Paton, John Foster Dulles, Marc Boegner and many others –, he was forced to direct his Christianity during the tough years of war and faced with the aberrations of totalitarianism towards hard realism and political pragmatism, while agreeing to take part in the commission chaired by ← 23 | 24 → Dulles “for a just and durable peace” (Federal Council’s Commission on a Just and Durable Peace), which proposed a federal union to the peoples of Europe. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that Visser ’t Hooft, the WCC members and his entourage were active in the ecumenical world in tackling the problem of organising the fight against Nazi-Fascism and defining a realistic strategy of pacification and the political reconstruction of the international community.

These considerations regarding the influence of Barth’s thought and Christian Realism on the political willingness of ecumenical Protestantism are certainly just food for thought and rough ideas on which new and future research may be launched. However, regarding the prospects for world peace to which ecumenism and federalism aspire, we can only agree with Hans Küng who stated that ecumenical dialogue based upon the search for the common foundations of the various denominations can help restore Christian unity and promote peace among nations, contributing significantly to an ideal global ethical heritage. However, it is also evident, as Visser ’t Hooft himself already understood at the time, that without a politically realistic approach to this problem, i.e., with efforts designed to promote the establishment of supranational democratic institutions able to settle international disputes between nation (and continental) states – or tomorrow among larger regional organisations – on the basis of a higher, shared law, the process of world pacification will only be partial, if not completely pointless.


The European Resistance and Historiography. A “Federalist” Interpretive Perspective

A Historicising Europe at war and the erosion of its long-standing central role in the decisive years between 1914 and 1945 means re-reading our Continent’s history using approaches to research and historiographical interpretation that establish a more appropriate link between the phase of Europe’s disintegration and destruction and its subsequent path towards integration.

Regarding those dramatic decades, according to some interpretations, the Second World War was simply a continuation of the First, a consequence of the issues that were left unresolved or questionably addressed under the Treaty of Versailles. Defining the two conflicts and the entire period between 1914 and 1945 as the “20th Century’s Thirty-Year War” is a widely accepted historical opinion. This expression, first used by Sigmund Neumann in 1946 and subsequently by George Hans ← 24 | 25 → Gadamer and Winston Churchill, came to be regarded as a true category of historiographical interpretation (e.g., in Arno J. Mayer and Fritz Stern)11.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
Ecumenical spirit military action peace political system
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 342 pp.

Biographical notes

Filippo Maria Giordano (Volume editor) Stefano Dell'Acqua (Volume editor)

Filippo Maria Giordano was awarded as PhD in the history of federalism and European unity by the University of Pavia in 2009. He has been working as a researcher at the Centre for Studies on Federalism (Moncalieri) since 2006. He is a research fellow at the Scuola superiore di studi universitari e di perfezionamento Sant'Anna, where he is carrying out research on the relationship between religions and regional supernational integration processes. Stefano Dell’Acqua studied Humanities at the University of Pavia. Since 2001, he has been carrying out research for a PhD on institutions, ideas and political movements in contemporary Europe and the history of federalism and European unification. He is currently employed as a secondary school teacher. His research interests include the theory and history of European integration historiography (particularly the German historian Walter Lipgens) and federal viewpoints among the German Resistance and Italian Protestants.


Title: «Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft