Melville’s Billy Bud
This excerpt by Melville is from the scene where the chaplain is with Billy before his execution. This part of the passage is saying that even though "the worthy man" Captain Vere and in this scene the Chaplain essentially knows that Billy is innocent in all of the ways that truly matter, he did not try to help him. Therefore Billy becomes a "martyr of martial discipline." Neither Captain Vere nor the Chaplain can step outside the bounds of their position to help Billy just because Billy is a likeable guy. They have to do the duty of his position and anything else would be an "audacious transgression". Basically, despite Billy Budd being a likeable guy, much more so than Claggart, the naval officers on the ship must still persecute him according to military law.
This next part of the excerpt goes more into depth on how the Chaplain is restrained by his position. “Bluntly put, a chaplain is the minister of the Prince of Peace serving in the host of the God of War - Mars. As such, he is an incongruous as a musket would be on the altar at Christmas. Why then is he there?” Because he indirectly sub serves the purpose attested by the cannon; because too he lends the sanction of the religion of the meek to that which practically is the abrogation of everything but brute Force. Melville is subtly pointing out the contradictions of life by stating that the Chaplain is supposed to be a holy man, a priest, a "minister of the Prince of Peace (Jesus)" yet he is working on a naval ship. His living comes from serving the military, the "God of War". The chaplain's faith is somewhat compromised and he is powerless to act on his conviction of Billy's innocence because he is employed by the King and the navy. For both the chaplain and Captain Vere, Melville shows the contradictions within a person. Sometimes you believe one thing but are bound or committed to something else. The two ethical beliefs you have are conflicting and you have to live with...
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