“Nothing in my hands I bring”

Written by Lindsay Ruddle, HBC member

Musing on the funeral ritual which took place in Vienna on 16th July 2011 following the death of Dr Otto von Hapsburg, this verse from Augustus M. Toplady’s great hymn “Rock of Ages” came to mind:

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”

Otto of Austria, former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, who died on 4th  July, was taken to his last resting place in Vienna’s Kaisergruft on 16th July. Dr Otto von Hapsburg (aged 98), known as “The Father of the House” in the European Parliament, was an accomplished debater and fluent in seven European languages. He was also the head of the historic Hapsburg dynasty, being the son of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor who was exiled in 1919. The funeral ritual took place as follows.

“Who desires entry?” Three times Father Gottfried, curator of the Imperial Burial Crypt in Vienna, asked this question as the Master of Ceremonies knocked on the door of the “Kaisergruft”, following an old Habsburg tradition.

Following tradition all his titles were mentioned in reply to the first enquiry: “Who desires entry?”

“Otto of Austria, once the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Steyr, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukovina, Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Zator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara, Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca, Prince of Trent and Brixen, Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria, Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, etc., Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro and on the Windisch Mark Großwojwode the Voivodship of Serbia etc., etc.”

The curator answered “We don’t know him”.

The second time round, Otto von Habsburg’s non-royal credentials were mentioned in reply to the question: “Who desires entry?”

“Dr. Otto von Habsburg, President and Honorary President of the Pan-European Union, member of the European Parliament, bearer of many honorary doctorates, honorary citizenships, and high state and ecclesiastical distinctions etc., etc.”

The curator answered “We don’t know him”.

Finally at the third request – “Who desires entry?” – the answer given was simple and straightforward: “Otto, a mortal and sinful man.”  Only then were the doors opened.

As an amateur historian I know that the Hapsburgs (rulers of the vast eleven-nation Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918) were notorious in many ways for many things, but the ancient ritual spoken at all their funerals and described above surely goes to the heart of the Gospel. Whatever our status or achievements in this life, when we come to death we are all but sinful human beings, with nothing to claim but Christ’s atoning death for us on the Cross.

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”


3 responses to ““Nothing in my hands I bring”

  1. Yes Don, It makes you think doesn’t it?

    Of all the things we proudly cling to, name and reputation are those we proudly cling to …. but they are all stripped away at our last heart beat. All the things we may have achieved just dissolve with our last breath.

    There must be a lot of regret in the thoughts of many, including believers in that last moment in this world. ‘I have done so little for the Lord’…. ‘I focused my energies on myself and my family and my friends, but did little for the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger’. We live in one of the most deceitful times, where selfishness is transformed by the enemy of our souls into a ‘new virtue’.

    John Wesley once said of the Methodist people: ‘our people die well’. I wonder if that may be said of us as we reach the border of ‘Immanuel’s Land’.


  2. Yes, SDG. I wonder the same.

    I sat with my mother earlier this year as she was ushered home to God. The death of a loved-one sure drive this point home, doesn’t it?

  3. Soli deo gloria

    Death is a subject that even believers avoid. Its horrible, we know, but the Lord has dealt with its sting. Some well meaning people dance around the subject when a friend or relative or parent or child is terminally ill. It is assumed to be kind not to tell someone they are dying. But is it? It is a unique human experience. I think I need to know. I think it is something that is even precious in the Lords eyes.

    Better by far however to number our days, and live each to the Lord as if it was our last.

    Doesnt this glorify God?

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