For many of us who are not pastors or missionaries, integrating our walks of faith and our vocational callings can be a challenge. Throughout church history, there have been some remarkable men and women who have excelled at meeting this challenge. One such example lived in the early centuries of the church. Her name was Bathild (c. 630-c.680), and she found herself in various vocational situations at different stages in her life. In each of those situations, she found opportunities to be a blessing to others and to advance the kingdom of God.
Bathild’s first occupation was that of slave. She was an Anglo-Saxon captive sold to Erchinoald, mayor of the palace for Frankish king Clovis II. Bathild distinguished herself in Erchinoald’s household by serving him kindly, humbly, and faithfully. In addition, she served her elders by cheerfully and gladly washing their feet, bringing them water to wash themselves, and preparing their clothing. Though she found herself an enslaved captive, Bathild was committed to joyfully serving others.
Bathild’s service brought her to the attention of Clovis II, king of Neustria and Burgundy, who married her in spite of her status as a slave. Bathild became queen and eventually, when Clovis died, ruled as regent until her eldest son came of age. By the grace of God, Bathild was elevated from a place of subservience and impotence to a place of authority and power. Instead of using her new status primarily to benefit herself, she used her new authority to benefit others. Because of her early life as a slave, Bathild had great empathy for the poor and downtrodden. Her rule was characterized by giving to and caring for the poor, including decreasing the heavy tax burden under which they labored; helping to enact laws that improved the condition of the lives of slaves and forbade the selling of Christians into slavery; ordering many captives to be freed, sometimes paying the ransom herself; establishing and supporting religious communities, which often cared for these newly freed captives; and prohibiting the purchase of sacred offices.
When her son came of age, Bathild retired to a convent that she had founded using her own funds. Rather than seeking privileges or honors due a queen, she humbly served and labored alongside the other nuns in the community. She loved her sisters in the convent and willingly submitted to the leadership and guidance of the abbess. She gladly took on the most rudimentary of tasks: cleaning the kitchen and latrine, comforting the sick, and grieving with the sorrowful. She sought to make the convent an outpost of hospitality by graciously extending love and care to all.
As a slave, Bathild humbly demonstrated the love of God to those whom he had called her to serve. Motivated by the love of Christ and surrendered completely to him, Bathild used the power and authority of her position as queen for the welfare of others. She cared for those in need with great solicitude and compassion. Her own personal happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction were not her highest goal as she lived out her various vocational callings. Rather, Bathild sought to glorify God and advance the flourishing and prosperity of others. She did not covet or cling to wealth and power but held it loosely and used it to promote the common good. As a result, she played a significant role in transforming her world, bringing hope to and bettering the lives of many.
The world in which Bathild carried out her vocation was filled with injustice, inequity, harshness, and hardship, as is our world today. Our vocational calling is unlikely to include ruling as a queen. But whatever our calling may be, we need to undertake it in a manner such that the kingdom of God—its ways and values—is advanced. According to her biographer, Bathild “left an example of holiness to her followers. Her humility, patience, mildness, and overflowing zeal for love, infinite mercy, astute and prudent vigilance ... were an example to many. She showed that ... all actions should be temperate and rational” (Vita Sanctae Bathildis 16). May we follow Bathild’s worthy example as we live out our vocation—whatever it may be—in submission and service to the Lord Jesus Christ.