The Oliverian Theory and Practice of Freemasonry
by G Reginald Cooper 

{This Treatise was prepared for Masonic Discussion and hopefully

In commendation of Dr. George Oliver one must state that despite the
Criticism of his writings and theories he was indeed, a pioneer of Masonry,
as we know it today.
He was fixed with this statement for several undeniable reasons. He was born
in1782 and lived until 1867.He was the eldest son of his family who had been
descended from an ancient Scottish family who came to England at the time of
James I to Clipstone Park, Nottinghamshire. He was the son of Rev. Samuel
Oliver an Anglican Priest. His Mother was Elizabeth the daughter of George
Whitehead. He was born at Peppplewick, Nottinghamshire, on November 5, 1782.
In 1803 at the age of 21 he became second Master of a Grammar School at
Caiston Lincoln, and in 1809, Head Master of King Edward's Grammar school at
Great Grimsby.  In 1813, he entered Holy Orders in the Church of England.
In 1800, at the tender age of 18, he became a Mason, which under the English
Constitution of the day and to this date is properly practiced.  That is to
say, sons of Masons at the age of 18 may be "I".  His Father, the Rev.
Samuel Oliver, was an Anglican Priest and Chaplain of his Lodge of St.
Peters, at Peterborough, in the Midlands of England.  The Lodge still exists
today under that name and is numbered. 442 E.C.  This act no doubt launched
him on his Masonic way.  As a "Lewis", literally a son of a Mason, it is
worth noting that there is an existing Lodge as of this date {2001} in
Peterborough {U.K.} named Dr. Oliver No.3964.
Not long after receiving his Ordination in the Anglican Church, he was given
a Parish at Grimsby and promptly founded a lodge and laid the cornerstone
for a Masonic Temple .in 1812.  A notable act for at that time Masons it
seems were content to meet in Taverns or rooms over Taverns which often were
the only public places that were open for congregating.  About this time, he
received his Exaltation in Royal Arch Degree in the Chapter attached to
Rodney H.R.A. Lodge at Kingston-on-Hull, and his Masonic Knighthood {Knights
Templar} in the same Lodge in 1813.
We might well be advised to note here that there was utter confusion in the
Grandeur {sic} of that time.  Grand Masters were coming and going in rapid
succession   Not only in the Mother country, but also in the various
American Jurisdictions.
 Poor Oliver, he became a Grand Steward in1816 and a Grand Superintendent of
the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts with the Title of Deputy Grand Master, in
the same year.  It happened this way one presumes as a result of his
writings so impressing his American Brethren.  He became honored Provincial
Grand Master U.K .in 1832.  Despite the honours that had been bestowed on
him, he became involved with a Dr. Crucefix, a Medical Practitioner and the
then Editor of Freemasons Quarterly. He used this instrument to advocate the
founding of an Asylum for aged Masons.  Once this enterprise was
established, he began a Movement for the establishment of schools for boys
and girls, children of Masons funded by Masons {we must keep in mind that
universal free schooling was not available for ordinary families). There
were available, for those who could pay the tuition, Private Schools, which
History shows became known as Public Schools.
He, at the order of the then Grand Master the Duke of Sussex who ruled with
an iron hand, ordered him to cease and desist this pandering to the working
class.  He {Cruefix} refused; believing his cause was right and Masonic.
Masonry to this day in the UK continues to support similar ventures.
Oliver supported  Crucefix  publicly, who had become persona non grata
within the Grand Lodge of England.  Oliver was asked by the Grand Master of
the day to relinquish his appointment.  Not only did Bro. Oliver oblige him,
but he also resigned from all active Masonry, contenting himself with his
church role and his Masonic writing.

It seems that Bro. Crucefix's case however, his expulsion from Masonic
endeavors, soon wore off, maybe by popular demand.  He continued to practice
medicine and to write authoritatively on many Masonic topics.  He is
considered by many to be one of the most distinguished Characters of the
Craft in the first half of the nineteenth century.
It is not abundantly clear why Dr. Crucifixes' association with Bro. Oliver
caused the Grand Master to take such drastic action as ordering Bro. Oliver
to resign his Grand Rank.  We must, I think, consider that the Grand Master
knew little of Masonic dicta, which was very common in that day.  That is to
say, that then, as now, in the Grand Lodge of Britain, the Grand Master was
appointed because of his Royal Rank, not because of his knowledge of, or
service to Masonry.
I deem it to be in order to our Historical Agenda to cast our attention to
what was transpiring at this time here at home here in Ontario.  In 1838,
the first Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Canada became Clerk of the Peace
in the district court of Talbot Ontario and on June 11, 1840 he petitioned
the  St.Johns Lodge Masonic Lodge, No. 14 of the Town of  Simcoe for Masonic
Membership.  Before 1840 ended, he was made the Junior Warden.  The same
Lodge through a succession of names became in 1854 Norfolk Lodge No.10,
listing itself as having been founded in 1812.
I apologize to the reader-listener for what must seem constant digression.
But I think that the treatise is kept more intact, if we are able to balance
our new thoughts with the established thinking of which we are familiar.
There is so much to say on the subject that digressions would seem to be
inevitable and I think inviting,
It is certain that the Masonic life and writings of Dr. Oliver are the most
singular factor in the moral revolution of the direction of Masonry to this
date. Heretofore, masonry and its practice were centered, in the main, on
Public House Life.  Bro Oliver raised the standard of conduct above and
beyond that which was prevalent in his day.  Lest, the Recipients of this
treatise, are of a mind to think "Not So!",
let him read the Minutes of ACACIA Lodge, No. 430 my Mother Lodge.  You will
find that the secretary of the day it seems was so besotted after the
regular call ON after refreshment, that a different hand writing was penning
the Minute Book on most occasions.  Of course, in that era - 100 years
past - we were meeting over a Public House in Toronto at Main Street and
Kingston Road.  Toronto, as of course were many other Lodges, meeting over
Taverns and the like.  One can readily imagine the quality of the Ritual
after the Lodge was called back ON.  Couple that notation of the Masonic
workings with that which we referred to before, we can readily imagine the
"jumble mumble" of the work, in particular when the work, being not set down
in print, but passed on from lip to ear.  It is easy to imagine that this
had to be so since many ordinary Men of that time lacked the education to
read or write with even ordinary comprehension, and were left to simply
absorb the Rote by dint of memory.
But back to Brother Oliver, who began an era of Masonic respectability that
was to never look back, and raised the standard of Morality in Masonry to a
height that had never before been reached, never mind have been imagined.
In his numerous works on Freemasonry, of which it is virtually impossible to
specify the most important, the most learned or the most interesting, Bro.
Oliver has raised the Institution to a point of elevation which had never
before been reached, and to which his most ardent admirers had ever aspired
to promote it
We owe it to our hero Oliver to take a taste or two into his writings.  In
his story of the Legend of St.. Albans, that is narrated in his Book the
Legend of the Craft, he takes us back to the third century in British
History, and writes of the introduction of Masonry in England.  When I write
of  St.Albans, my mind goes back to WW2 when as I was stationed for almost 1
8 months within a few miles of the Historic Town of St.Albans which was
situated some 40 miles North of London.  The town is very historic as its
Cathedral was built before the 9th century.
However the legend he writes about is of St.Alban not the town, but of St.
Alban of whom it is said really made Masons.  He did so in this manner.
When at the time of the Roman Conquest of England, the company of the
Legions included Stone Masons, and no doubt some of them rose to prominence
as Master Workman.  It is said that Alban was one of these.  It is not so
important to Masons whether he was in fact a Stone Mason, he was; but that
was the beginning of Masonry in England in this wise.  In the building of
the great Churches, St. Alban was one of, if not the principal, architect of
that time. The British History of that period tells us that the Romans were
withdrawing back to Italy to defend Rome from the great barbarians from the
North and left unfinished many churches that were completed by British
Masons.  (Read also in other places of the coming of the Commacine Masters
from Lake Como who escaped over the Alps into Europe and finally to Britain.
The Commacines must be given credit for the forming of the Guilds, which in
my mind were the forefathers of Masonry.)
Dr. Oliver writes in his missive on the York Legend of the General Assembly
of Masons at York in the year of 926, and of the important undertakings of
that occasion.  Now "it is impossible", he writes, "to attach any doubt that
this meeting took place".  Indeed he remarks that both the Operatives and
the Speculatives of the time both tell of that said meeting in their
Histories.  Further both the Halliwell and the Cook MS tell in varying
detail of the meetings.  They both recount that these meetings were
instrumental in the revival of the Craft.  The Halliwell Poem, whose
conjectural date is about 1390, {four hundred years after the event}
contains in some detail, stripped of its archaisms of the day, the following
assertions. " This craft came to England as He writes in the reign of King
Athelstane". I will not report in anywise verbatim simply to state as I have
earlier reported that the meeting at York was most propitious and under the
leadership of Edward Athelstan.  They made great strides to remedy past
error and to enact some laws for the society of Masons.  In seeking how they
might set up a governing body they enacted some 15 points.
He led the assembly, making the cry that Masons young and old come forth if
they had any writings or understanding of the charges and the manners of the
Craft.  They did some in English, some in Greek, and some in French.  He
assembled these writings into one book that all Fellows and Masons
henceforth might be of one mind. {Have you heard that Phrase before?} That
the book should be read aloud in each making of each Mason.
Now the narrative from which this part of our paper is extracted, is written
in English of the Middle Ages.  To those so skilled in the exact
comprehension it is available to read in the original "The Halliwell Poem".
One hundred years later it is recounted in the Cook MS that the Worthy King
Athelstone so loved the sciences of Geometry or Masonry that he became a
Mason himself.
Suffice it is to say at this juncture that all historians concur in
attributing the character of Athelstan that he was a wise, just, and
sagacious Statesman.  Further that his grandfather, Alfred the Great, would
be proud that his Grandson continued in Alfred's quest to consolidate the
various petty monarchies into one Powerful Kingdom - all England.
When History melds with Legend, it is satisfying indeed.  OLIVER concludes
his Legend of the Craft by stating that the prehistory here verges so
closely to the Legend, that the true rise of Masonry as we begin to
understand it, cannot be denied.
He loved the Lodge for it's social tendencies, for he was gentle in his
inclinations and in his habits, cherishing its principles of brotherly love,
for his heart was as expanded as his mind.  But he taught that within it's
chain of union there was a fund of ethics and philosophy, a beautiful
science of symbolism by which ethics were developed to the initiate.
Scholars were awakened to the contemplations of the fact, that never before
had been so completely demonstrated, that Speculative masonry claimed, and
was entitled to, a prominent place among the systems of human philosophy.
No longer could men say that the MASONS were just a club of good fellows.
Oliver had proved that it was a school of Admirers after Truth.  No longer
could they charge that its only design was the cultivation of kindly
feelings and enjoyment of good cheer - as important as those two elements
were then, as they certainly are today.  His first contribution to the
literature of Freemasonry Masonic writings, save a few Sermons with Masonic
overtones, was a work entitled  "The Antiquities of Freemasonry, comprising
illustrations of the five Grand periods from creation to the building of
King Solomon's Temple" - SOME TITLE.   His next major work was entitled "The
Star in the East", intending to show, from the testimony of Masonic Writers,
the connection between the Church and the Masonic Order.  In 1841, he wrote
12 lectures on "The Signs and Symbols of Freemasonry" in which he went into
great detail regarding the history and the signification of all the
recognized symbols of the Craft.  He does not say so exactly, but DANIEL
BERESNIAK did, in the Assouline collection of the writings on the "Symbols
of the Craft" He says it this way. "Symbolism opens the doors of
perception, when it explores the links between ideas, imagination and
It is in this way that Dr. Oliver attempts to reconcile the story of the
children of Lamech, as detailed in the "Legend of the Craft", with his
theory, which really ousts Cain and all his descendants from the pale of
Masonry. The sons of Lamech were Masons but their Masonry had been greatly
But Doctor Oliver makes the usual division in Masonry between the
Speculative and the Operative.  He writes that the Cainanites, after they
had lost all pretensions to the latter, demonstrated the first practical
application of the art in the building of the city of Hanoch or as it is
called in Genesis, {King James Version} Enoch. Thus Masonry was divided as
to its history, into two distinct streams, that of the Operative and that of
the Speculative: the former cultivated by the descendants of Cain and the
latter by those of Seth.  He writes, it does not however appear that the
Operative branch was altogether neglected by the Sethies, but was only made
subordinate to their Speculative science, while the latter was entirely
neglected by the Cainanites who devoted themselves exclusively to the
Operative art.  Finally they abandoned it, which led to their destruction in
the flood.
The Speculative stream however flowed on uninterruptedly to the time of
Noah.  Oliver does not hesitate to say that Seth, associating himself with
the most virtuous of men of his age, formed lodges and were called by their
contemporaries 'Sons of Light"  Seth continued to, preside over the Craft
until the time of Enoch when he appointed that patriarch as his successor
and Grand Superintendent.
Enoch as Grand Master, practiced Masonry with such effect that God
vouchsafed  to reveal to him some of the peculiar mysteries, among which was
the sacred word.  Which continues until this day to form an important
portion of Masonic speculation.  Also for the preservation of which from the
impending destruction of the World, he constructed a subterranean edifice in
which he concealed the sacred treasure.  Mediaeval Masons therefore did not
know this legend of the vault of Enoch.  It is not contained in the ritual
of the Ancient Craft of Masonry, but it became recognized by a branch of the
Upper Regions of the Craft as it is today.
It is important I think for clarity that we define the differences between
Operative and Speculative Masonry.  Albert G. Mackey 33deg. states it this
way,  "The Lectures in the Symbolic Degrees, instruct the neophyte in the
difference between the Operative and the Speculative branches of Masonry."
They tell him that we work in the Speculative Masonry, which really is
another way of saying FREEMASONRY. But our Ancestors practiced principally
Operative Masonry that has its basis the veneration of the Almighty.
In 1885, just two years before his passing, he wrote a Book entitled The
Discrepancies of Free Masonry. It is written as a Dialogue that he is having
with another Mason.  I shall record it that way.
"Dinner being served at the Rectory of Dr Oliver and the servants having
left the room, I commenced the conversation by saying: The Cardinal Points
of the compass, which we propose to resume our consideration of this day,
have formed an Important Landmark of every age of Masonry.  And the progress
of a Brother from West to East, and from East to West are thus noticed in
the lectures: -

Bro. Senior Warden from whence come you
From the West
Whither are you directing your course?
To the East
What is your object?
To seek a Master"

Listen again on that same evening as the conversation continues about the
extent of the Lodge.  While listening keep in mind the Junior Wardens
Lecture in the EAP degree.

"What is the shape of the Lodge
A long square. How Long
From East to West..  How broad
Between South and North.How High
Inches, feet, yards innumerable as high as the heavens...How deep
To the center of the Earth
Then comes the reason.
Why is it said that a Masons Lodge is so vast.
Not only to show the universality of the science, but to show no bounds but
those of prudence"

Well maybe that's enough to allow the listener {reader} to realize how
ancient but familiar these phrases are. I find it exciting and remarkable
that they have remained almost intact for nearly 300 years. In what other
situation of life, in what other experience of life can one find a situation
when one overhears so to speak two men, having a dialogue which is very
nearly the same some three hundred years later as one would while attending
a Masonic Meeting of today.  It makes me very proud to be a Mason as it does
I'm sure you.  If one would like to read the whole conversation and much
more in the same vane, read for your self.  It is found in the Book by
George Oliver entitled as I have said "The Discrepancies of Freemasonry"
Found in the Grand Lodge Library whose walls I have haunted in writing this
Oliver was a theologian and as such was very much influenced by the clerical
the esprit du corps sought to make his every opinion subservient to his
peculiar sectarian views.  Thus he gave every symbol, every myth, and every
allegory the interpretation of a cleric rather than a philosopher.
 The other weakness, and a far more important one, was the indulgence in
excessive credulity, which led him to errors in traditions, as to truth of
history.  In reading his narratives, it is difficult to separate the two
elements.  He tends to gloss up the sober parts of History with a
sometimes-fanciful colouring of legendary lore.  But here, as in all things,
there is a medium, a measure of moderation, which we should always, as many
of us do, to colour the legends and traditions derived by him from sources,
which were only seemingly known to him.
A hypothesis that in his mind becomes the Science of Masonry.  He would take
us if we would go, back to the Garden of Eden and the Lodge formed by Adam.
However it is distinctly possible, in my view, and pleasantly contemplated
indeed, that he simply wanted to lead us to a thought that many truths
expounded by Masons of today have existed since time immemorial.  They do,
do they not?  Well at least we say so, don't we?
He must ever be declared "clarum ET venerable" among the craft.  To the
study of History and Philosophy of the institution, he brought a store of
acquirements and a familiarity with ancient and Modern Literature that had
never heretofore been possessed by any Masonic writer who had preceded him.
Even the erudite Hutchinson, who certainly occupied a central and most
elevated point in the circle of Masonic students who have studied him, wrote
that the acceding (consenting) elders paid him homage. Can we do less?

Doctor and Brother Oliver died at Eastgate, Lincoln, England in 1867.

A. E. Waite, A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry -1970
Coils Masonic, Masonic Encyclopedia rev. -1995
A.G. Mackey The History of   Freemasonry  -1996
A.G. Mackey Masonic Encyclopedia Edition- 1912
Some of the Works of Dr. Oliver from the Grand Lodge Library and at one time
at least to be
Found in the Toronto Public Library, 1875

Compiled and composed by Bro. G. R {Reg}. Cooper P.G.S. Past Master of
Acacia Lodge NO. 430 GRC and of King George V Lodge NO 498.  King Solomon's
Chapter R.A.M. NO 8. GRC
32nd Degree Scottish Rite, Fellow of the Royal College of Masonry.