At the Council of Constance in 1414, the church ceases to be an absolute monarchy ruled exclusively by the Pope. The council proclaims its authority superior to that of the Pope and lays out articles by which it will meet regularly, at least once a decade, and delegates were to include ambassadors from the courts of the Catholic Kings. By 1417, the papacy has effectively become a constitutional oligarchy since Catholic monarchs, once completely subject to the Pope's authority now have, at least some, authority over the making of church policy. This seriously curbs the effectiveness of the Pope's political authority outside of the church, paving the way for more secular government.
In 1453, Constantinople falls to the Muslim Turks and the Byzantine scholars who have preserved the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome are driven into exile. Many flee to Italy brining with them this "classical" knowledge. Though already prized in Florence before the fall of Constantinople, these classical studies begin to be widely discussed and debated amongst the upper classes and the knowledge becomes generally more available to the European nations. This accounts for the "rebirth" of classical knowledge which is epitomized by the moniker, Renaissance.
Though an absolute date cannot be assigned to the beginning of the movement, the Renaissance was a new start for western civilization. It was a a time of great change, quickness, and excitement. It was the true start of the shift which brought forth the society in which we live today -- though it can be argued that the shift has not come to its full realization.
Renaissance people undergoing the experience, in such representatives as Castiglione, da Vinci, Alberti, and countless others, had no doubt they were engaged in something new and in a rebirth of culture. They looked with disdain at that which had gone before, the "barbarous" period out of which the known world had just emerged and regarded themselves as improving the world.
The term Middle Ages was invented during the renaissance as a derogatory term. During the renaissance, scholars regarded their own age, and the former cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, as truly civilized. Thus, they termed the period between their own time and these ancient cultures as the Middle Age. The word Medieval comes from the Latin words for this term, medium (middle) and aevem (age).
The "rebirth" of civilization was not merely limited to a rediscovery of the relics and evidence of a more sophisticated culture, but the age also brought forth a flowering of new advances in the arts and sciences.
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