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

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism

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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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W. A. Visser ’t Hooft between Ecumenism and Federalism. The Idea of European Unity

Biographical Background: Ecumenism and Europeanism

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W. A. Visser ’t Hooft between Ecumenism and Federalism:

The Idea of European Unity

Filippo MARIA GIORDANO

Dutch pastor Willem Adolph Visser ’t Hooft devoted an entire chapter of his Mémoires to the European Resistance movements, whose representatives met in Geneva at the beginning of 1944 “afin de coopérer et dans leur combat commun et dans l’organisation de la paix”1, which, in the vision of the then Secretary of the newly formed World Council of Churches, was to be achieved through the political unity of the European states. According to Visser ’t Hooft, only a European federation, “[…] [would] probably be […] accepted by the large masses of Europeans who seek above all a real guarantee against further wars and economic ruin”2.

What was the starting point and when did he start conceiving of the idea of European federation? What role did the Dutch pastor play in fostering the spread of this political ideal during the Resistance? What ideological reasons led him to make the federal unity of Europe the ultimate goal of his Christian commitment? Finally, which religious principles influenced his political thought on the re-establishment of a new European and world order, shifting his interests from the traditional concept of the nation-state to that of a supranational organisation able to overcome and restrain all of the most harmful particularisms?

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