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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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Protestants, Ecumenical Perspectives and Federalism




From a widespread and sometimes rather general point of view, Protestant churches have been and still are strongly influenced by nationalism in the countries in which they were established and still live1. However, it is time this point of view was re-assessed. In fact, although it is true that in countries like Sweden the Reformation coincided with the birth of a new nation2 and that it was precisely the translation of the Bible that significantly helped create a national culture in non-independent countries (such as Finland), or those not yet unified (such as Germany). However, it is equally true that there was a European dimension of the Reformation from the very outset, that was then somehow wiped out by the almost total elimination of Protestantism in Latin and Slavic culture countries. However, Calvin was French and wrote his many books in Latin (then translated them into vernacular), and in Germany itself, Melanchthon (Luther’s intellectual right-hand man) thought in European and federal terms. A few years ago, a great book by Mario Miegge led us to reflect on Melanchthon’s commentary on the well-known second chapter of the Book of Daniel3. According to Melanchthon, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the statue’s feet symbolised the various European nations that had arisen from the “iron legs” of the Roman Empire. These nations, he commented, were threatened by two powers combining the spiritual and political dimensions: the Pope and the Turks. There was only one solution to these threats: the adoption...

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