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

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism


Edited By Filippo Maria Giordano and Stefano Dell'Acqua

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.
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The Ecumenical Movement between the Two World Wars and the Birth of the World Council of Churches

The Ecumenical Movement



Thank you for the initiative – the first – ever in our country on Willem Adolf Visser ’t Hooft, a major 20th century Christian figure as well as one of the great architects of the ecumenical movement, to which he made a decisive contribution in two respects. First of all, he helped create the World Council of Churches (WCC), which has been and continues to be the leading institution at the service of the ecumenical movement, the main instrument through which this movement speaks, acts, operates and develops; secondly, although he was deeply concerned about the WCC as an institution, he has always stressed, through his words and deeds, that: ecumenism should remain a movement of churches and among churches; the Council itself should be considered a starting point rather than an end; and it should remain open to anything new God arouses in the churches and in the world, and therefore should not fossilise, but should be able to renew itself throughout its history.

Now, allow me to address the topic assigned to me, which centres around two poles: the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches. In my short essay, I will try to address the things I think are important about both of them.

This topic concerns the ecumenical movement “between the two World Wars”: it is the right framework because it is precisely between the two world wars that the ecumenical movement started to take shape, also...

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