The Gospel of Matthew records an incident which has been oft repeated. During a teaching session, Jesus brought a young boy to His hearers as an object lesson. He “set him in the midst of them and said “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:2-3). Jesus’ methods likewise did not employ the sophisticated rhetorical techniques that would have been familiar to his Hellenistic audiences. He spoke in simple language that was at once accessible to all yet precluded from the philosophically arrogant.
Likewise, in his masterful book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton eloquently linked God’s eternal attributes to pure, childlike qualities:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Though there is no indication that The Little Prince was ever intended to be read through a Christian lens, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry nonetheless created a powerful spiritual allegory which has resonated with immediacy and relevance since its creation. It is the world’s fourth most translated book, selling over 2 million copies annually with over 140 million copies sold worldwide.
In The Little Prince we find a Christ-like protagonist, and like many sensitive writers who touch the heart of the human condition, Saint-Exupéry has offered a theological bridge to the unbelieving world. As John Warwick Montgomery noted the worlds visited by the Little Prince represent the most telling temptations present on ours.
Here are a few of them: The world of the absolute and universal ruler. This dictator asserts that even the stars obey him, since he “will not tolerate disobedience.” The reason, however, that his orders are always obeyed is simply that he never orders anything unreasonable: he only orders the sun to go down when evening is coming on! He is willing to make the Little Prince his minister of justice—but he has no subjects. On leaving that planet, the Prince reflects (as he will on leaving all the others): “Adults are surely a strange lot—really bizarre!”
The world of the man of vanity: All that this inhabitant wants is to be known, honored, and applauded (without any basis for it). The world of the drinker: He drinks to forget—and why? “To forget that I am ashamed of my drinking.” The world of the businessman: He “possesses” the stars (the absolute ruler only “rules” over them!); the businessman counts them with incredible precision and they make him “rich”—indeed, he would buy more of them if he could find them. The world of the geographer: He is the epitome of abstract bookishness: like certain scholars and professional philosophers of our world, he refuses to investigate anything personally and establishes absurd standards of proof for those who actually do the investigating: “If, for example, it is a question of the discovery of a great mountain, the discover must provide us with large rocks from it.”
Saint-Exupéry recognized the fundamental truth espoused by Plato, Rousseau, and Wittgenstein that ultimate truths can only derive from a realm beyond ours. Without revelation, we engage in our absurdities and never realize that they are such. Here we find the beauty of the allegory. Here we find the essence and timelessness of the book.