Anthony D. Baker’s Diagonal Advance: Perfection in Christian Theology is as a powerful reminder of a language and hermeneutic long forgotten by much of modern theology. The Fathers’ language of perfection, along with the grammar of ton agathon, descent and ascent, doxa – far from being a false import or supererogatory categories – display, rather, their acute awareness and elucidation of the Biblical legacy.

There are many interesting themes running through Baker’s book, but chief among them is the biblical logic of divine and human transgressions spilling over their respective planes. The Hebraic scriptures, from tales of the Nephilim and Enoch, to the New Testament period with its language of perfection and patrimimesis and on to the Fathers’ Chalcedonian formations, all point toward a “boundary crossing fluidity” (146). So much so that “the gap of religious desire is not heaven to earth, but the difficult road from Corinth to Thessalonica, the risky seas separating Ephesus from Rome…” (137). Baker recalls us to a strange world where God becomes human and humans become God.

This brief passage in particular stood out to me. Pondering the logic of Chaledcon, Baker writes:

When the Fathers develop the language for Christ’s humanity as enhypostatically joined to his divinity, it is out of an attempt to insist that Christ has no human narrative other than that of the Divine Pilgrim. Christ cannot have a human Person, since this would grant a teleological integrity to his human nature, and leave us too securely within the realm of Aristotelian metaphysics. How does the human nature of Christ receive this hypostatic union as a perfection? The point must be not that his human nature is amalgamated to a divine nature in a competitive space, but rather the divine nature descends in Person into existence as a human nature, granting to the human nature the end it has always desired, since it is the end for which humanity was created. The form of all creation descends into himself, personifying a created nature, allowing it to share in his own divine end, which is also his humanity’s proper end. In this way Christ’s humanity is deified, and this deification is also its perfection, since, unlike a union of say, hydrangeas and tulips, Christ unites in his Person two natures that are fit to one another… The incarnate one never ceases to be the divine one, not because the divinity is packed away inside a secret compartment of his human personality, but because Christ in the body is like his own eternal divinity, telling the same story in his flesh that his personality tells in eternity” (162).

There are at least two key points that stand out here. First, the Father’s do not allow for a “competitive space” between the divine and the human. This echoes Baker’s larger argument, but it also highlights a point raised by Rowan Williams: God does not cross some religious hinterland in order to arrive on earth. Second, Christ doesn’t descend to anything other than himself. Christ’s pilgrimage, as Baker notes elsewhere by way of St. Augustine, is a “kenosis into himself, which in turns provides a pathway for the ascending of all the forms that inhere within his divine nature” (161). I’m still trying to work out what this all means, but it seems to indicate that the language of perfection (or deification) is related more to creation than soteriology.

Earlier this week I was reminded of Baker’s 2009 Political Theology article “Poesis and Immediacy.” In response to one of his critics, Baker wrote “God is not immediacy, but a trinity, and thus an eternal mediation (175). The point made here is similar to the passage above. God is not some monadic “other” located on the far side of being. Precisely as Trinity, the divine processions extend ad extra. The mission of Father, Son and Holy Spirit therefore complicates any clean divide. Needless to say, the ecclesia implications here are huge.

However, the real take home value here is the sobering reminder that Chalcedon doesn’t solve any problems. As Baker notes, Chalcedon only intensifies the language of two natures within a single ousia (159). And with that I look forward to the second half of the book.