One of the most quoted lines ever penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the immortal axiom of Sherlock Holmes: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” In other words, in your investigations into truth, you may begin with the hypotheses that appear most reasonable, but once such possibilities are demonstrated to be impossible, you must go where the evidence leads you, even if the evidence leads you in an improbable direction.
Although Doyle lived and wrote long after the Council of Nicea, the principle voiced by Holmes in The Sign of the Four was a foundational guiding principle of the formulation of Trinitarian theology. Many (most? all?) non-orthodox formulations of theology proper initially appear more reasonable and sensible than the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, but views like modalism have been eliminated by the biblical evidence. We are left with “whatever remains, however improbable” – that God is simultaneously both one and three.
We need to apply Holmes’ principle to the current debate concerning the possibility of submission being an integral element in the eternal, internal relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. Initially it appears nonsensical that the Persons of the Trinity can be equal and yet relate in relationships of authority and submission. But Trinitarian debates have never really been resolved by what appears most reasonable. Trinitarian debates have been beholden to the biblical evidence – even when such evidence takes us in improbable directions.
Isn’t it odd that theologians defending God as both One and Three will in the same breath declare equality and submission to be irreconcilable?