Visser’t Hooft, Willem Adolf
VISSER’T HOOFT, WILLEM ADOLF
Internationally recognized leader of the modern ecumenical movement; b. Haarlem, Netherlands, Sept. 20, 1900; d. Geneva, Switzerland, July 4, 1985. Visser’t Hooft did his doctoral studies at the University of Leiden writing his thesis on "The Background of the Social Gospel in America." He married Jetty Boddaert in 1924, the same year he became secretary of the World Committee of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). As its youngest participant, Visser’t Hooft was present at the 1925 Stockholm conference on Life and Work. In 1931 he was elected general secretary of the World's Student Christian Federation.
At the World Conference on Life and Work held in Oxford, 1937, he served as chairperson of the subsection on "The Church and War." He was present, too, at the Second World Conference on Faith and Order in Edinburgh, Scotland, that same year. Each of these consultations voted for the creation of the World Council of Churches to carry on the pioneering programs of Faith and Order and Life and Work in one organization. At Utrecht in 1938 Visser’t Hooft was elected general secretary of the Provisional Committee for the World Council of Churches (in Process of Formation). He carried that responsibility until the inauguration of the World Council of Churches at its first Assembly in Amsterdam in 1948. He there assumed the post of the first general secretary of the new ecumenical organization, a position he held until 1966.
In Amsterdam in 1939, Visser’t Hooft chaired the Steering Committee of the World Conference of Christian youth. When World War II broke out and hostilities intensified around Switzerland, he remained in Geneva to assist refugees from Nazi Germany and to act as a communications link between churches in occupied territories and the rest of the world.
The year of his retirement, 1966, saw a virtual flood of expressions of recognition and honor for his long and distinguished ecumenical career. He remained active after his retirement. Nearly to the time of his death he continued to visit the Ecumenical Center in Geneva to work and to consult with staff and visitors over tea. He also carried on a series of informal discussion sessions in his Geneva home on the history of the ecumenical movement. He produced five major books after his retirement, including his Memoirs which appeared first in Dutch in 1971. His beloved wife and colleague died in 1968.
In addition to his autobiography, Visser’t Hooft's books include: Anglo-Catholicism and Orthodoxy (1933); No Other Gods (1937); The Church and its Function in Society (with J. H. Oldham 1937); The Wretchedness and Greatness of the Church (1944); The Struggle of the Dutch Church (1946); The Kingship of Christ (1948); The Meaning of Ecumenical (1953); The Renewal of the Church (1956); The Pressure of Our Common Calling (1959); No Other Name: The Choice between Syncretism and Christian Universalism (1963); Peace amongst Christians (1967); Has the Ecumenical Movement a Future? (1974); Genesis and Formation of the World Council of Churches (1982); and The Fatherhood of God in an Age of Emancipation (1982).
Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, observed at the time of Visser’t Hooft's death that their friendship embodied more than a personal relationship. He said that Visser’t Hooft's perceptive mind made him aware of the importance of the participation of the Roman Catholic Church in the ecumenical movement, and the problems it created. Visser’t Hooft's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church directly, or through close friends such as Cardinal Bea, was always marked by a love for and in Christ, which lies at the heart of ecumenism.
Bibliography: Ecumenical Press Service (July 6–10, 1985) 52:24. w. a. visser’t hooft, Memoirs (Philadelphia 1973). h. berkhof, "Visser’t Hooft as Ecumenical Theologian," EcumRev 38 (April 1986) 203–208. a.j. vand der bent, ed. Voices of Unity: Essays in Honour of Willem Adolf Visser’t Hooft on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (Geneva 1981).
[d. f. martensen]