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what is the meaning and purpose of "fermenting wine"?

Then, as now, the minds of the average men of the world were so crammed with the things that do not matter that they had no space for the things that do matter. But Fate is never in a hurry, and the movement went on. Many accepted the findings of the successive committees as being final, and indeed, it is difficult to see how the alleged facts could have been more severely tested. At the same time, this strong, new,fermenting wine began to burst some of the old bottles into which it was poured to the excusable disgust of the public.

from http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301051h.html

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    It is a metaphor. The new ideas/practices were breaking old habits/understanding. – Weather Vane Mar 12 at 18:16
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    It refers to the Biblical parable about putting new wine into old wineskins. The King James Bible uses the term 'bottles', but the reference is clearly to leather wineskins. – Kate Bunting Mar 12 at 18:53
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The verb "fermenting" - which means undergoing the process of fermentation - is something that substances do naturally themselves. In wine-making, certain additives may speed up the process, but the maker has to wait for the ingredients to ferment themselves. So, literally "fermenting wine" refers to wine that is currently undergoing fermentation.

In your quotation, it refers to fermenting wine which has been bottled. Normally you would not bottle wine until that process had completed and the wine was ready; however, in some European winemaking regions they do bottle young, partially-fermented wine and it is sold for consumption. For example, in France, it is known as Beaujolais nouveau. When sold, it doesn't have a cork in the bottle because it would pop out; they just put a foil lid on and pierce holes in it so the wine can fizz. I've seen what a mess it can make on a supermarket floor! Perhaps it is this kind of wine that is being referred, as it could burst the bottles if they were sealed.


However, looking at the wider context of your quotation, it appears this is a metaphor and not to be taken literally.

A strikingly similar parable is found in the Bible in two of the gospel accounts, in which Jesus said that new wine should not be put into old wineskins because they would burst. In context, this illustration evidently refers to the fact that Jesus intended Christian teachings to completely replace the Jewish system of worship. Jesus preached almost exclusively to Jewish people during his lifetime (Christianity was only spread to other nationalities by his apostles after his death) and he was in effect saying that his new teaching would not just be an addition to Jewish law, but it would completely replace it.

As your quotation comes from The History of Spiritualism it would appear the writer is using this parable as a metaphor to say that new ideas were being introduced to this group of worshippers, and members were objecting to it because these new ideas were like new wine in old wineskins - their old frame of reference and beliefs could not contain the changes. Note that, in the Bible, it is not used as a metaphor.

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  • Good answer and I upvoted it. I'd quibble with your interpretation of Jesus's analogy about wine and wineskins. The context is that he had just said that it was not appropriate for his followers to fast while he was with them, but they would do so after he was dead. So I think his point with the wineskins is that each thing should be done in its appropriate time. But the question was not about theology, so I don't want to get into a debate about that here. :-) – Jay Mar 12 at 20:43
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    It’s a metaphor, not an analogy. english.stackexchange.com/questions/94703/… – Mike Scott Mar 12 at 21:51
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    @MikeScott You're right, it is being used as a metaphor in the OP's quote, but the bible passage to which it evidently refers is related as an analogy, not a metaphor. I've updated my answer, thanks. – Astralbee Mar 16 at 9:35

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