Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt

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In October of 1945, an ecumenical delegation paid a visit to the newly established Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. It had been constituted by members of the various factions of the Confessing Church.

The representatives of the World Council of Churches who travelled to the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany’s meeting in Stuttgart required a gesture of repentance in order to facilitate international aid: They said: Help us, explained Willem Visser ’t Hooft as the delegation’s spokesman. And we want to do that, too, but reply by saying, help us so that we are able to help! This is how the “Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt” came about.

The articulation of guilt by men who, as members of the Confessing Church subjected to extreme pressure, had suffered reprisals by the state and even years of imprisonment especially made an impression. Above all, Hans Asmussen and Martin Niemöller dictated this course:

We accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently. These words soon became known as the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt and remained highly controversial. This first expression of repentance was crucial.

The declaration, undersigned by Theophil Wurm, Hans Asmussen, Hans Meiser, Heinrich Held, Hanns Lilje, Hugo Hahn, Wilhelm Niesel, Rudolf Smend, Gustav Heinemann, Otto Dibelius and Martin Niemöller, was presented to the emergent World Council of Churches on October 19, 1945.

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  • © Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, Bestand 2 Nr. 1790

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