Otto von Hapsburg: The Prince, the Professor, and the Sinner

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Jul 19, 2011 4 Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

Otto von Hapsburg: The Prince, the Professor, and the Sinner

Otto von Hapsburg (Habsburg) (1912-2011), the last Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, died at the age of 98 on 4 July 2011.  After a 13-day period of mourning, he was entombed in the Imperial Crypt under the Capuchin Church in Vienna.
The funeral embodied the dignity and regal splendor that befitted the heir of the 650-year-old Hapsburg Dynasty, complete with Haydn’s majestic and breathtaking “Austrian Hymn.” (http://www  But a unique feature of the Hapsburg funeral tradition (http://www stands out as a stern reminder to all of us:  The Herald who presented Otto’s coffin to the Capuchin Church for entombment knocked three times on the church door, and twice he was denied entry.

I. First, the Herald knocked on the door.  When the Capuchin father asked from inside the church, “Who demands entry?” he responded by listing Otto’s hereditary titles of nobility: “Otto of Austria; former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary; Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria, and Illyria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Siebenbürgen, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, OÅ›wiÄ™cim and Zator, Teschen, Friaul, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trento and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg etc.; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and Windic March, Grand Voivod of the Voivodeship of Serbia etc. etc.”
But the Capuchin father responded, “We do not know him.”

II. The Herald knocked a second time.  Again the friar asked, “Who demands entry” and the Herald responded by listing Otto’s personal achievements, which were both numerous and impressive. Deposed from the throne in 1918, Otto and his family lived in exile for much of their lives.  But they continued to serve the country they loved.  Otto’s father, the Emperor Karl, instilled in him from an early age that the kingship is an office of holy service and unselfish sacrifice for the good of the peoples entrusted to him. Otto never forgot that.  He earned a Ph.D in Political and Social Sciences as well as numerous honorary doctorates, taught in leading universities, and authored 35 books.  A conservative Catholic, he gallantly defended European Christianity (http://www, the sanctity of life, and human dignity and fought against totalitarianism throughout his life.  He resisted Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria and arranged for the escape of 15,000 Austrians including many Jews, and then fought just as hard against Communist totalitarianism and was instrumental in bringing down the Iron Curtain and arranging the escape of 600 East Germans into Austria.  In 1979 he was elected to the European Parliament, representing the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union, and held that position for two decades, serving also as president of the Pan European League.  Well into his 90s he continued to champion European Christianity, human dignity, and the sanctity of life.
But even that wasn’t good enough.  The Capuchin friar again responded, “We do not know him.”

III. The Herald knocked a third time.  Again the friar asked, “Who demands entry?”
This time the Herald responded simply, “Otto, a mortal and a sinner.”
The Capuchin father replied, “Thus he may enter.”  The gates opened.  Otto’s mortal remains entered upon their earthly rest, and his soul, we trust, entered into heavenly bliss through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for all mortals, crown princes no less than others.

Otto von Hapsburg, rest in peace.  May the best of your era be remembered and renewed.  And may this Hapsburg tradition remind us that, regardless of our status or accomplishments, we all come to the grave as mortal sinners, and to heaven only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

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  1. Barbara Moore (http://bmooreusa null@null yahoo says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to a beautiful life.

  2. Sylias Tachbaugh says:

    I would agree that Jesus The Christ was crucified, died, was buried & then resurrected for the sinners of the world.
    Otto, like my own father, is asleep now, awaiting the resurection when Christ comes to collect His Body, The Church.
    He is not however, in the presence of God at this moment.
    (1st Timothy 6:16 “Who alone has immortality, making His home in light inaccessible, Whom not one of mankind perceived nor can be perceiving, to Whom be honor and might eonian! Amen!”)

  3. John Eidsmoe says:

    I agree there is some disagreement among Christian theologians on this subject, but Paul wrote, “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). Otto’s body rests in the crypt awaiting the Resurrection, but his spirit is with the Lord.

  4. Josephine Harkay says:

    First a correction: Otto’s “hereditary” titles of nobility…. “heretical” is the adjective of “heresy.”
    I met this humble, charming elderly man once here in the USA when he visited various Hungarian groups. After his talk, he and I happened to be in the coat room at the same time, and he helped me to put on my coat. – Mrs. Josephine Harkay

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