Was there ever a "Paris school" of theology? Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), for one, didn't think so. He wrote the following words about Fr Sergii Bulgakov on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the St Serge Institute in Paris:
The whole path from the Marxist lie to Church truth, Levite traditionalism on one side and daring breadth on the other, rare philosophical sensitivity, cultivation, a zealous pastoral heart and an exceptional prayerfulness – our late Dean bore all this in himself. Fr. Sergii’s significance may perhaps be not at all in what his few disciples and his many ill-wishers want to see. All of us, his colleagues and friends, while fully defending the freedom of his daring and altogether agreeing in the formulation of precisely these problems, at the same time do not at all share his theological assertions in full. One must directly and determinedly declare in the hearing of all: the Theological Institute has never considered Fr. Sergii’s conjectures to be its official theology. Fr. Sergii was unable to establish any school of his own here. Moreover: he did not leave behind a single disciple among his former students, or now among the teachers. There is no “Paris theology”! This expression rings intolerably false and provincial to the genuine Church ear and to theological taste. It could exist only in the imagination of those suspicious of all obscurantism.His point, so far as I understand it, is that, whatever one makes of Bulgakov's theological system (if indeed he can be said to have had a single system), no one at St Serge's – or really anyone anywhere else, for that matter – continued his theological legacy. I think Fr Cyprian is quite right in arguing that St Serge's should not be made synonymous with Bulgakov. Indeed, one of Fr Bulgakov's greatest critics, Fr Georges Florovsky, was Bulgakov's colleague at St Serge's and even, at one point, his spiritual son. Fr Cyprian Kern's own patristic and liturgical scholarship – very little of which, unfortunately, has been translated into English – likewise had nothing in common with Bulgakov's thought. Indeed, one could look at many of the Russian emigre theologians in France as writing in reaction against Fr Bulgakov – sometimes tacitly, like Florovsky; sometimes not so tacitly, like Lossky (who didn't, of course, have anything to do with St Serge's). Nor did the generation after Florovsky and Lossky educated at St Serge's, such as Frs John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann, continue Fr Bulgakov's strain of theology, however respectfully they honored Bulgakov personally. Fr Sophrony (Sakharov), who was in fact heavily influenced by Bulgakov's idea of hypostasis (but not by his sophiology), rarely admitted his debt to Bulgakov for fear of controversy
It could, of course, be argued that the "Paris school" is not so much a matter of "Bulgakov-ism" as of theological "liberalism" or "modernism" – I put these in quotation marks because they are notoriously difficult to define – which has since been carried on within parts of Western Europe and North America. But this, too, I think is unfair to Paris. If one is to admit that a "liberalism" of some sort was characteristic of some of the first-generation of teachers at St Serge's, it need be remembered that these theologians were educated in Russia before the Revolution, and were in fact carrying on one particular line of theology going back, perhaps, to Soloviev. The roots of St Serge's "liberalism" lie in pre-Revolutionary Russia, not in France. It may be that this "liberalism" did indeed find its base in Paris and spread from there, but it wasn't invented there.
A sad thing happened in France beginning about the 1920s. The Russian ecclesiastical emigration broke into three waring parties: the Paris Jurisdiction (under Metropolitan Evlogy), the Russian Church Abroad (under Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky), and the Moscow Patriarchate (which recognized Metropolitan, later Patriarch, Sergii). The Paris Jurisdiction tended to be populated by the liberal intelligentsia; the Russian Church Abroad tended to be made up of monarchists, conservatives, and monastics; the Moscow Patriarchate tended to be made up of a small group of "traditionalist" intellectuals (e.g., Lossky, Ouspensky, and the St Photius Brotherhood). The theological currents of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church were divided among these three warring jurisdictions.
All of which is to say, I suppose, that no single one of these jurisdictions represented the ful theological sobornosti (catholicity) of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church. While St Serge's may have been the locus of a sort of theological "liberalism" in the West, it certainly didn't invent it: it inherited it from Russia.
But bear in mind that I'm essentially thinking out loud.
The quotation from Fr Cyprian is my translation from Boris Zaitsev, Dalekoe (Inter-Language Literary Association, 1965), 70.