Adapted from the pamphlet "The Flaming Chalice" by Daniel D. Hotchkiss.
At the opening of Unitarian
Universalist worship services, many congregations light a flame
inside a chalice. This flaming chalice has become a well-known
symbol of our denomination. It unites our members in worship and
symbolizes the spirit of our work.
The chalice and the flame were brought together as a Unitarian
symbol by an Austrian artist, Hans Deutsch, in 1941. Living in Paris
during the 1930's Deutsch drew critical cartoons of Adolf Hitler.
When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, he abandoned all he had and
fled to the South of France, then to Spain, and finally, with an
altered passport, into Portugal.
There, he met the Reverend Charles Joy, executive director of the
Unitarian Service Committee (USC). The Service Committee was new,
founded in Boston to assist Eastern Europeans, among them Unitarians
as well as Jews, who needed to escape Nazi persecution. From his
Lisbon headquarters, Joy oversaw a secret network of couriers and
Charles Joy felt that this new, unknown organization needed some
visual image to represent Unitarianism to the world, especially when
dealing with government agencies abroad.
Deutsch was most impressed and soon was working for the USC. He
later wrote to Joy:
"There is something that urges me to tell you...
how much I admire your utter self denial [and] readiness to serve,
to sacrifice all, your time, your health, your well being, to
help, help, help.
"I am not what you may actually
call a believer. But if your kind of life is the profession of
your faith---as it is, I feel sure---then religion, ceasing to be
magic and mysticism, becomes confession to practical philosophy
and---what is more- --to active, really useful social work. And
this religion--- with or without a heading---is one to which even
a `godless' fellow like myself can say wholeheartedly, Yes!"
The USC was an unknown organization in 1941. This was a special
handicap in the cloak-and-dagger world, where establishing trust
quickly across barriers of language, nationality, and faith could
mean life instead of death. Disguises, signs and countersigns, and
midnight runs across guarded borders were the means of freedom in
those days. Joy asked Deutsch to create a symbol for their papers
"to make them look official, to give dignity and importance to
them, and at the same time to symbolize the spirit of our work....
When a document may keep a man out of jail, give him standing with
governments and police, it is important that it look important."
Thus, Hans Deutsch made his lasting contribution to the USC and,
as it turned out, to Unitarian Universalism. With pencil and ink he
drew a chalice with a flame. It was, Joy wrote his board in Boston,
"a chalice with a flame, the kind of chalice which the Greeks and
Romans put on their altars. The holy oil burning in it is a symbol
of helpfulness and sacrifice.... This was in the mind of the artist.
The fact, however, that it remotely suggests a cross was not in his
mind, but to me this also has its merit. We do not limit our work to
Christians. Indeed, at the present moment, our work is nine-tenths
for the Jews, yet we do stem from the Christian tradition, and the
cross does symbolize Christianity and its central theme of
The flaming chalice design was made into a seal for papers and a
badge for agents moving refugees to freedom. In time it became a
symbol of Unitarian Universalism all around the world.
The story of Hans Deutsch reminds us that the symbol of a flaming
chalice stood in the beginning for a life of service. When Deutsch
designed the flaming chalice, he had never seen a Unitarian or
Universalist church or heard a sermon. What he had seen was faith in
action—people who were willing to risk all for others in a time of
Today, the flaming chalice is the official symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Service
Committee and the Unitarian Universalist
or unofficially, it functions as a logo for hundreds of
congregations. A version of the symbol was adopted by the General
Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in
Britain. It has
since been used by Unitarian churches in other parts of the world.
Perhaps most importantly, it has become a focal point for worship.
No one meaning or interpretation is official. The flaming chalice,
like our faith, stands open to receive new truths that pass the
tests of reason, justice, and compassion.
here for Chalice Clip-Art
Source: Unitarian Universalist Association and the
General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Purchase paper copies of the "The Flaming
Chalice" pamphlet from the
Bookstore for distribution or display.