Once upon a Thursday in 1519, the sculptor Ambrose awoke to a banging on his door. He ordered his mistress into the closet, for he did not want to weaken his reputation for being a good moral sculptor. The wench shuffled into hiding while the banging continued. Ambrose pulled on his robe and puttered in the direction of the huge oak door as it continued to shake with the fist-bludgeons of his unguessable knocker.
"Yes! Yes! Hold your horses, Man! I'm Coming! Coming!" he said, as he at last arrived at the door and threw it open.
"Where do want this?" asked a man, who in one hand held the reins to a team of draft horses and, with the other, pointed to a huge block of Cararra marble resting on a sled being drawn by the huge percherons.
The artist gasped.
"Where did you get it? Who's it for? Who's to pay for it?" asked the sculptor in the myriad of questions that flooded out of him all at once.
"It's a gift!" said the deliveryman, and he handed Ambrose a piece of rolled parchment.
Ambrose unrolled the parchment and read:
This is a gift, from your king.
Use it to carve anything you like,
Only it must be a portrait
Of all that lives in the center of your soul.
Before you begin, bring your hammer and chisel
To the high altar of the cathedral.
Lay them on the great altar of gold
And beg the dying Christ to sanctify your heart;
For only when your hammer and chisel have been sanctified
Will what's in your heart become the art
That lifts the world to see its better self.
Hoping for a Better Kingdom,
The artist winched the stone into his studio, and he thought over the King's letter. Should he not be free to carve without the consecration of his hammer? What right did the King have to order him to face the dying Christ before he worked? An artist must be free to create what an artist will without the imposition of some banal creed or worldview. He would carve a portrait of what lived in the center of his soul. But he would not consult the dying Christ, nor place his soul beneath any restriction. "Only when an artist is free is an artist an artist," he said to himself.
A week later, on a bright Monday morning, he began work. When he faced the stone for the first time, he asked himself again, what lives in the center of my life. He was very hungry at the time, and so facing the question, began to carve what seemed the glorious combination of all kinds of food. On Tuesday, he was filled with a covetous desire of his neighbor's estate and carved accordingly. On Wednesday, lust was his master, and his heart directed his chisel. Some deadly appetite seemed in the center of his life each time he began his work.
His odd work convoluted in formations of stone as tangled as his inner heart was. Finally the work was done, and the King came to the studio to behold the artist's work.
The King was horrified, for the work was formless and ugly.
"Did you consecrate your hammer and chisel at the great altar."
The artist bowed his head, "No, sire, for I wanted to be free."
"See then what unconsecrated freedom produces. You have carved your inner life, but you have not produced a statue of beauty. Unconsecrated men may carve their inwardness, but ego serves only appetite. You should have given your life to Him who hangs above the altar, then what you fashioned would have been a portrait of all that is moral and noble. Freedom is never setting the ego free from all restraints. Freedom is to set the ego free from its own addictions. In such freedom, the portrait of the inner life will breathe the name of Christ and all that life produces will be in the image of God."
Ambrose died and his odd sculpture came to mark his grave. The sculptor, crushed by his King's remonstrance, lettered a steela in stone. It read: "To any who would be a sculptor. Beware the freedom that destroys. I turned from Christ and was mastered by my passions. Your art will be at last the picture of what occupies your heart of hearts. Seek a better master than I have sought. Start at the great altar. Lay your hammer and chisel beneath the great Christ. Give God your soul's best dreams."
Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all to the Glory of God.