George Will's op-ed column of Dec. 16 {"Person of the Millennium"} prompts a recollection of matters learned at Harvard 55 years ago in Charles H. McIlwain's course in political theory from Plato to Rousseau and in Benjamin Wright's course in American political thought.

The formulation concerning consent of the governed as the basis for governments' lawful power -- attributed by Mr. Will to Thomas Jefferson -- harked back to Robert Cardinal Bellarmine some 175 years before. True, Jefferson's library at Monticello contains none of Bellarmine's works. Jefferson's copy of Robert Filmer's "Patriarcha," however, has a marginal citation, in Jefferson's hand, of Bellarmine's pertinent words. Jefferson presumably knew what he was replicating.

Some 38 years ago I drafted, Secretary of State Dean Acheson uttered and the State Department published a text concerning, among other things, antecedents of ideas basic to what the United States seeks to exemplify in the world. The inclusion of Bellarmine's name stirred a minor flurry of reproof: How dare the secretary of state list that ultramontane Jesuit among preceptors of the American ethos? Mr. Acheson sent for me. My words had got him into a pickle. What should he say to get out of it? I recall still Mr. Acheson's glee as he signed the letters expounding the linkage.

CHARLES BURTON MARSHALL Arlington