“Who Goes There?” – The 1916 funeral of Emperor Franz Joseph of the Hapsburg Empire

There is an interesting story from a famous funeral a century ago that illustrates well how we are all equal in the eyes of God.

When Emperor Franz Jospeh of Austria died in 1916 his funeral was the last of the extravagant imperial funerals of the famous Hapsburg dynasty. This royal family had been incredibly powerful in Europe for over 600 years.

Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916) became the head of Austro-Hungarian kingdom in 1867 and ruled for 68 years.


For the state funeral of Emperor Franz there was a huge procession of elegantly dressed dignitaries as they escorted the casket through the streets of Vienna. The casket itself was draped in the black and gold imperial colours and was accompanied by a large military band.

When the procession arrived at the Capuchin Church the procession preceded down the four hundred year old stairs to the Imperial Crypt. At the bottom of the stairs lit by torch-light was a great iron door that barred the way to the final resting place for the descendants of the Hapsburg family. And on the other side of the locked iron door was the Cardinal of Vienna waiting for the casket to arrive


The military officer leading the royal casket of the Emperor stopped at the door and cried out “Open!” – as he was obligated to do as part of the prescribed ceremony established centuries ago.

“Who goes there?”responded the Cardinal from behind the iron doors.

“We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz Joseph the First, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the faith…” with the leading officer continuing to list all of the Emperor’s thirty-seven titles.

At the conclusion of the long list of titles the Cardinal’s response was swift – “We know him not!” 

The iron doors that lead into the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna, Austria.


The leading officer knocked again on the great iron door. Once again the Cardinal responded from behind the closed door – “Who goes there?”

The officer spoke again – this time using a much abbreviated and less ostentatious title for the deceased Emperor.

“We know him not!” the Cardinal replied again.

The officer gave a third knock. Once again the Cardinal asks: “Who goes there?”

This time the officer’s third and final reply stripped the Emperor of all but the humblest of titles – “We bear the body of Franz Joseph, our brother, a sinner – like us all”

With the final response of the officer the huge iron doors swung open – and the body of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was allowed to enter.

This story from a bygone time illustrates well that no matter who we are, what our successes have been or our possessions gained – none of it matters in the end. Before our Creator we are all equal – we are sinners, undeserving of God’s grace and forgiveness but through Christ given it anyway.

As the Apostle Paul says in the Bible: “For there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)



About the author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from a series on his blog “Reverential Ramblings”.

Greyfriars Bobby: A Story of Faithfulness

GREYFRIARS BOBBY: A Story of Faithfulness

There’s a wonderful story of faithfulness from nineteenth century Scotland
150 years ago John Gray was a policeman in the city of Edinburgh. Constable Gray walked the nightime streets to ensure they were safe. And because of theses lonely nights John Gray acquired a dog – a small skye terrier – and he named it Bobby.
For three years Constable John Gray and little Bobby trekked the nighttime streets of Edinburgh – until one day the policeman became unwell and soon passed away from tuberculosis.
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Constable John Gray’s skye terrier dog became famous in the Scottish city of Edinburgh in the mid-nineteenth century.
Bobby, the sky terrier dog, refused to leave his owner’s body. Even when he was buried in nearby Greyfriars Church, Bobby stood guard – sitting on his owner’s grave.
Within a short period of time Bobby became famous for his faithfulness to his master. People would come to visit the Greyfriars graveyard and see skye terrier standing guard – and he became known as Greyfriars Bobby.
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A statue of Bobby was erected in Edinburgh soon after he died and still stands today
The only time Greyfriars Bobby left the grave would be at the sound of the 1pm cannon fired daily from Edinburgh Castle. This was the signal for Bobby to have a meal put out for him by one of the local pubs.
Bobby sat by his master’s grave for the next fourteen years until his own death. Greyfriars Bobby was buried in the church graveyard not too far from Constable John Grey. A year later a statue of Bobby was erected as a monument to his faithfulness.
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Greyfriars Bobby was buried in Greyfriars Church near his master’s grave
The Bible says “I have chosen the way of faithfulness” (Psalm 119:30).
May the story of Greyfriars Bobby be an example to us of choosing to stay faithful to our heavenly Master – Jesus Christ.
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Walt Disney visiting the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in 1960

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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Burning the hand that betrays you…

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Thomas Cranmer felt guilty.

Incredibly guilty.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury had just watched from his prison cell two of his colleagues (Latimer and Ridley) burned at the stake. Queen Mary of England had decided to make examples of these three clergymen as she endeavoured to return England to Roman Catholicism. These three men (after whom the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” was written) were key Protestant protagonists in the sweeping sixteenth century church reforms of Mary’s father King Henry VIII.

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A portrait of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1553 – 1555) and trusted advisor to King Henry VIII of England

And the new Queen – who would become known as “Bloody Mary” – had vowed to eradicate the influence of the German Martin Luther with the death of all those who followed the biblical teachings of the Reformation.

Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed in 1555 by being set on fire in the public square outside of Balliol College in Oxford – but Thomas Cranmer was allowed to live. The reason for Cranmer’s stay-of-execution was he’d renounced all the Protestant beliefs of his two colleagues, fully re-accepted Catholic theology including papal supremacy, and stated there was no possibility of eternal life outside the Catholic Church.

King Henry VIII of England took advantage of the Reformation sweeping through continental Europe in the sixteenth century. Thomas Cranmer helped build the case for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn

Five months after the death of his two colleagues Thomas Cranmer stood in the University Church of Oxford to publicly declare once again his allegiance to Rome. Cranmer had been asked to submit a transcript of his speech to Queen Mary for approval before he spoke – but as he stood on the stage specially constructed for the event something changed.

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A visitor today to University Church in Oxford can still see “Cranmer’s Column” – where part of the column was modified to make way the stage where Thomas Cranmer was to deliver a speech supporting the pope and Roman Catholicism.

As Thomas Cranmer delivered his speech in Oxford he unexpectedly deviated from the authorised script. He shocked everyone by once again declaring his support for the Reformation, and said that since his own hand had signed documents supporting the pope then that hand would be burnt first. Before the authorities could stop Cranmer’s speech he yelled out “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.”

Cranmer was pulled down from the stage and taken to the exact same spot where he’d watched Latimer and Ridley burned. Eyewitnesses have described how, as the fire burned around the former Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer placed his right hand into the flames and declared “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

As a symbol of his repentance Thomas Cranmer placed the hand that signed his support of the pope into the fire

Today, this place of execution of the “Oxford Martyrs” is marked with an ‘X’ in the middle of a road. Pedestrians and cyclists pass by without giving it a glance. But those of a more reflective nature pause for a moment and ask themselves whether they have the same courageous faith required to stand for their Saviour even in the face of death.

“Be faithful, even unto death” Jesus says to us in Revelation 2:10, “and I will give you the crown of life.”

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“X” marks the spot in the city of Oxford. This is the site of the executions of Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer – known as the “Oxford Martyrs”
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The “Martyrs Memorial” erected in Oxford nearly three hundred years after the execution of the three Anglican bishops. The inscription at the base reads: “To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God 1841”



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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Three Blind Mice and the English Reformation

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When Queen Mary ascended the throne of England in 1553 – few people would have known that within five years hundreds of Protestant sympathisers would be burnt at the stake, the queen would become known as “Bloody Mary”, and the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” would be written.

Queen Mary’s father – the famous Henry VIII – had England join the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s. The country would then swing between Catholicism and the nascent Protestantism for over a hundred and fifty years – depending on the loyalties of the regent at the time.

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Queen Mary I of England (reigned 1553 – 1558)


Queen Mary’s devotion lay with the church of Rome and her five years in charge would be spent reversing not only the church reforms of her father, but also her half-brother Edward VI who had become king at the age of nine and was dead six years later.

The highest profile executions that Mary ordered were those she organised in the university town of Oxford. Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were Anglican bishops who were burnt to death outside of Balliol College for their support of England’s Reformation. By the time of her death in 1558 “Bloody Mary” had ordered the executions of almost three hundred men and women for their religious beliefs.

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Board Street in Oxford, England – in front of Balliol College. The “X” marks the spot where the three Protestant bishops Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were burnt at the stake


So, where does the famous children’s nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” fit into this story of the Reformation? Well, Queen Mary had not only earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her executions but also “The Famer’s Wife” for her marriage to King Phillip of Spain who owned huge tracts of fertile farmland. The three Anglican bishops who were executed in Oxford were said to be spiritually blind for their support of church reform and their criticisms of the Pope. And their deaths were a result of their actions to stop Mary becoming queen when her Protestant half-brother Edward VI died at the age of fifteen.

Who knew they were describing church history when as kids they sang:

“Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

See how they run. See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?”

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It is said the popular children’s nursery rhyme from centuries ago -“Three Blind Mice” – was written about the execution of the “Oxford Martyrs” (Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer)
A medieval woodcarving of the execution of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer in 1555. Their colleague Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) was executed on the same spot in the same manner the following year.



(To read more about Thomas Cranmer – one of the “Three Blind Mice” – click here)


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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.




When a Monk Married a Nun

They say behind every successful man is…. a surprised mother-in-law (or something like that….). And the mother-in-law of the sixteenth century church reformer Martin Luther would have been quite surprised by the marriage to her daughter – for Martin was a monk who had taken a vow of chastity early in his career… and his new wife Katharina was a nun.

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After his marriage to former nun Katharina von Bura, Martin Luther said: “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”


Martin and Katharina first met when Martin helped his future wife and eleven of her fellow nuns escape their monastery in barrels normally used for transporting fish. Two years later (presumably enough time for the smell from the barrels to disappear) they were married in the German town of Wittenberg. The Luthers went on to raise six of their own children, adopt four others, and enjoy over twenty years of a contented home.

In the lead up to their marriage in 1525 some of Martin’s colleagues thought their wedding was a terrible idea. It’s not that they thought Martin and Katharina were ill-suited, but that the marriage might distract from the Reformation.  The reforming of the christian church in Europe had gained significant traction during the eight years since Martin had first knocked his theological discussion points into the local church door. Despite the church’s traditional prohibition of clerical marriage having almost no biblical foundation some within the Reformation movement felt the proposed marriage would be a scandalous diversion.

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The “Luther House” in the German town of Wittenberg where Martin and Katharina raised six of their own children, four adopted children, and often had up to thirty university students boarding with them.


But marry they did – and it may well be one of Martin Luther’s most successful personal decision. Katy, as Martin would call her, immediately began to manage the family’s affairs. She farmed, bred and sold cattle, ran a boarding home for students, and operated a hospital. Mrs. Luther’s business initiatives provided significant income for the family during those turbulent times of the early Reformation. Katharina was an organised, resourceful, and godly woman whose contribution to the Reformation was not simply in supporting her husband but also to the wider community.

They say that behind every successful man is… a successful woman. And Martin Luther’s prayerful decision to marry a nun who escaped her monastery in a fish-barrel was indeed a blessed success.

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This statue of Katharina Luther erected in the town of Wittenberg in 1999 conveys her industriousness and sense of purpose. It is doubtful Martin Luther’s leadership of the Reformation would have had the same impact without the support of this faithful and courageous woman.

Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.

The Reformation: Firm Friendships Broken

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Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt studied and worked together in the German town of Wittenberg during the early 1500’s. These two young men dreamed of a day when the Bible would be read widely and its instructions taken seriously – yet neither would have imagined their small town would one day be “ground-zero” for the Reformation.

Two young men with nothing to lose but their own careers for biblical truth. Their friendship was firm as together they debated the powerful Vatican heirarchy. They  stayed firm  as they were threatened by the Vatican powers to recant their biblical beliefs, and it was together that these two theologians were finally excommunicated from the church by Pope Leo.

But then something happened to cause these two firm friends to eventually go their separate paths.

Karlstadt told Luther that if they really were going to be Sola Scriptura – “the Bible alone” as the foundation for their faith – then the Ten Commandments of the Bible should also be taken seriously. In particular, Andreas Karlstadt would focus on two of God’s commandments that had fallen into disrepair since the cross of Christ:- The second commandment of not bowing down to images and statues (Exodus 20:4-6); and the fourth commandment of honouring the seventh-day Sabbath as a sacred day (Exodus 20:8-11).

“Sola Scriptura” was a belief of the church reformers that the Bible is the only rule of faith and Christian practice


Luther the pragmatist wanted the Reformation of the sixteenth century church to progress at a pace that allowed people to keep up, but Karlstadt the revolutionary wanted all of God’s light immediately. And so these two once-great-friends quickly became public adversaries. In 1524 Luther published an article that described Karlstadt’s radical ideas as the work of a modern-day “Judas”, and Karlstadt responded by calling Luther a “papist” and even “a cousin of the Antichrist”.

These difficult times of debating divinity tested tight friendships, and sometimes these friendships were brought undone. The Reformation needed Martin Luther’s pragmatism but it also needed Andreas Karlstadt’s zeal for all of God’s truth. Today, students of God’s Word might be forgiven for wondering what the Reformation could really have achieved if these two friends and colleagues remained exactly that.

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Andreas Karlstadt (1486 – 1541) was a key figure in Germany during the Reformation


Jesus once said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35) – and despite their different approaches to church reform Martin and Andreas did have a brotherly love for each other. Late in the evening on the 13th of June 1525, Andreas Karlstadt knocked on Martin Luther’s door. Andreas was desperate – he needed shelter and a place to hide. Even though it was Martin’s wedding night with his new bride Katherine, Martin Luther of course opened the door and took Andreas in.

The lesson from the relationship between Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt is that in pursuing biblical truth God’s people are stronger together.




Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.

Just a Little Indulgence (Part 3)

Martin Luther hadn’t intended to create continental chaos when he hammered his document into the church door, but turmoil is what his deed delivered. With one act from this seemingly obscure Augustinian monk the town of Wittenberg became ground-zero for the greatest spiritual and social upheaval the world has witnessed.

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Luther had been unsettled. The sale of indulgences by John Tetzel on behalf of the church had caused confusion amongst some of his parishioners and students. If they bought these indulgences did they really need to alter the behaviours that were against God’s will? Could they really buy their way into heaven – but what about Christ’s gift of salvation?

Luther had hoped his respectful letter to Archbishop Albert would bring some clarity to increasingly muddied church practices. Martin’s decision to then knock the document into a non-descript church door would spark radical change on the continent of Europe and around the world.

The invention of the printing press a few decades prior allowed someone to take this one document nailed to a church door in Wittenberg and easily duplicate it. These duplicates were then copied, and within weeks Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” of church malpractices were being discussed in palaces and public squares not just in Germany, but across Europe and in Rome itself.

In modern-day language – Martin Luther’s publicly posted “status update” was retweeted hundreds of times and had gone viral.


The revolution we now know as the Reformation had been centuries in the making. Many God-honouring individuals had courageously voiced the need for more biblical practices – and they’d lost their lives. The Reformation of the Christian church would not be the act of one single person, but in Martin Luther’s hammer on a church door in Wittenberg there would be sparks that would illuminate God’s truth more clearly.

The Dark Ages were ending and Light was beginning to re-enter into the hearts and minds of millions.

Difficult Times in The Shambles

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Wander the cobblestone streets of The Shambles in central York today and you find yourself snickering at the tumbledown techniques builders used centuries ago. Most of the shops lie askew, and floors and walls jut out at pedestrians as if this ancient English town was poking its tongue at modern-day visitors.

There are buildings where a resident on the top floor can stick their arm out their window and shake hands with a neighbour in the room across the street.

In amongst The Shambles you’d be forgiven for missing it. Number 35. A Dark Door. Second-floor leaning at an angle. A former butcher’s shop that hid secrets over four hundred years ago.

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The site of Margaret Clitheroe’s former home at Number 35, The Shambles in the city of York

Margaret Clitherow, a butcher’s wife, risked her young life by harbouring priests during the persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church in Reformation England. Her home in The Shambles became one of the most important hiding places in northern England for fugitive Catholic clergy.

At her trial in 1586 thirty-year-old Margaret refused to enter a plea. She feared her three children, or any of the other children from the school she ran, would be called as witnesses. In 1586 a witness of any age could be tortured to reveal their details, and young Margaret didn’t want to expose any child to that possibility. So she declined to anything.

Margaret Clitherow (1556 – 1586)


The English courts had a solution for anyone who refused to enter a plea. Margaret Clitherow was taken to the main bridge in York and was forcibly laid down over a sharp stone in the middle of her back. With her eyes to the sky the front door of Margaret’s home was placed on top of her. With a crowd watching on that Friday heavy stones were placed one-by-one on top of the door. It was expected that with the increasing pain Margaret would cry out a plea – but she remained silent.

It took fifteen minutes of stones being placed on top of her door, but finally the stone laying underneath Margaret broke her back.

The old bridge over the Ouse River in York


Margaret was pregnant with her fourth child at the time of her death. She lay dead on the bridge for another six hours before the weights were removed and her body, and that of her unborn child, were carried away.

Faith in the face of persecution has always required robust courage. Difficult times call for determined people willing to stay committed to their Creator. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
(2 Timothy 1:7)


Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.

Just a Little Indulgence (Part 2)

“JUST A LITTLE INDULGENCE” (Part 2): The 500-year-old Story of Matin Luther

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The statue of Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)  in the German city of Wittenberg

If you asked Hans Luther about his son Martin he would have told you Martin should not have been living in Wittenberg in 1517. And he certainly should not have been the professor of moral theology at the University there. Hans had wanted his son to be a lawyer but God had other plans – and so Martin Luther was indeed in Wittenberg when John Tetzel came to town selling “indulgences” on behalf of Pope Leo and Archbishop Albert.

According to the medieval teachings of the Roman Catholic Church people who bought an indulgence certificate were guaranteed less punishment from God for a specific sin. The church also promised the person named on the certificate would spend less time suffering in Purgatory after they’d died.

So when John Tetzel began aggressively spruiking these spurious spiritual promises in the German town of Wittenberg, Doctor Martin Luther was horrified.

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Johann (John) Tetzel (1465 – 1519) – The Grand Commissioner for the selling of “Indulgences” in Germany

Martin had experienced an epiphany in the city of Rome six years earlier when he attempted to climb the Holy Stairs on his knees. Luther had been reading the Bible and was rocked with the following reality: forgiveness came only through placing your faith in Jesus Christ – and not through climbing stairs or buying indulgence certificates at exorbitant costs or any other human invention.

So when some of Martin Luther’s parishioners told him they’d purchased indulgences from John Tetzel and therefore didn’t need to change their spiritually destructive behaviour, Martin sat down at his writing desk and wrote a respectful letter to Archbishop Albert of Mainz. Luther’s first point to Albert was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The lowly Wittenberg monk and preacher wished to alert the Archbishop of the pastoral difficulties generated by the sale of indulgences. At the time Luther wasn’t aware the money-raising scheme was actually initiated by Albert.

Luther continued his letter by reminding Albert that forgiveness came from an individual’s relationship with Christ and not from paying money or praying to a saint. Martin’s pen carried on writing and by the time he’d finished he’d added another ninety-four points to the first one. Martin’s polite letter to Albert would become known in history simply as the “Ninety-Five Theses” – and it would outline many common practices of the Catholic Church that weren’t found in Scripture.

Martin Luther mailed this letter to Albert with his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31st, 1517, exactly five hundred years ago this year. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. But then Martin did something he didn’t realise would irrevocably change Europe and the Christian world – he walked the short distance down a cobblestone road from Wittenberg University to the Castle Church and in an act of transparency Martin Luther nailed a copy of the letter to the church door.

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Luther nailing his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in the Wittenberg on the 31st of October, 1517. This document was a list of malpractices of the Roman Catholic Church in medieval times.

This Wittenberg monk and professor had just banged ninety-five points of protest of church abuse into public display. A revolution was about to begin. What Martin Luther didn’t realise as he walked away from the Castle Church door that day was he’d just started the Reformation.

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The original church doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg were destroyed in 1760. These bronze doors were a replacement in 1892 and list out each of the “Ninety-five Theses” Martin Luther nailed to the original door on October 31st, 1517. This year marks the 500th anniversary of this historic event.

(To be continued)


Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.

Just a Little Indulgence (Part 1)



Albert needed money. He needed a LOT of money and he needed it quickly

Albert desperately wanted to be the Archbishop of Mainz and he needed to finance the purchase of the role from Rome. He was already the Archbishop of Magdeburg and if Albert could secure the Mainz position then his power and influence in central Germany would be vast.

There was only one problem – Pope Leo was willing to give Albert his “blessing” to become the Archbishop of Mainz as long as Albert paid him. And the Pope’s price of sale was significant.

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Portrait of Albert in 1526 when he was promoted from Archbishop to Cardinal

Like Albert, Pope Leo also needed money. He needed a LOT of money. Leo wanted to continue the rebuild of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and in particular finish off the Sistine Chapel with the help of artist-in-residence Michelangelo.

So, five hundred years ago Leo and Albert hatched a plan. The plan was that Albert would borrow the money for the sale-price Rome was asking for in order to become the Archbishop of Mainz. To help repay the loan Albert would then be given by Pope Leo permission to sell religious “indulgences” to the large population in the region, and Leo and Albert’s plan was they would share the proceeds of the sale of these indulgence certificates fifty-fifty.

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Portrait of Pope Leo X (centre) painted by Renaissance master Raphael (hung in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy)

So, what were these “indulgence certificates”? According to the teachings of the church at the time the purchase of an indulgence entitled the buyer to receive less punishment for a sin during their life. It also entitled the person whose name appeared on the indulgence certificate to spend less time being punished in Purgatory after they’d died. Therefore, it was common for well-meaning but misinformed Christians to buy these indulgence certificates for recently deceased family-members. Their hope was to help lessen the time their loved-ones spent suffering in Purgatory.

A common expression at the time regarding purchasing an indulgence from the church was: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

This sale of indulgence certificates by the church to naïve believers five hundred years ago was a “spiritual shakedown” of the most malevolent kind. The Bible teaches no such thing as a sinner suffering in Purgatory after they die, but instead says that forgiveness by God is given “freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24)

But there’s money and power when you prey on people’s fear of eternal suffering compared to encouraging people to pray to a loving Father for His gift of eternal life.

Medieval drawing of the church selling “indulgence” certificates


Pope Leo and Archbishop Albert’s plan to raise money through the sale of indulgences to naïve believers was going well. If only their travelling roadshow had avoided going to the German town of Wittenberg history might be different.

For at the University of Wittenberg, there was a professor of moral theology who’d vehemently disagree with the church selling indulgence certificates to believers.

The year was 1517, and the professor’s name was Martin Luther.

(To be continued)

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Pope Leo X (1475-1521) needed to raise money to continue rebuilding St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome – including completing the Sistine Chapel with Michaelangelo’s masterpiece “The Last Judgment”


Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.