Christians really did mean to burn down Rome

I was pleased to find Chesterton here beating the same drum as Peter Leithart in regards to the necessary public nature of Christianity. It is not a private faith that aims to only coexist with the heathen. It aims to subvert philosophy, art, economics, literature, politics, absolutely everything. Christians didn’t burn down Rome (as Nero alleged), but they were lighting fires of another sort behind every door and in every institution.

We have already noted that this paradox appeared also in the treatment of the early Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly while it was still impotent. It was important solely because it was intolerable; and in that sense it is true to say that it was intolerable because it was intolerant. It was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a world without it. It dared to look right through it as though the gold and marble had been glass.

Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.207