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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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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,...

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